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Young child survival and development

Innocenti: child poverty on the rise in wealthy nations

© UNICEF/HQ97-0211/Press
Tiffany, 10, sits with her mother and step-father on a sidewalk bench in Florida, USA. After months of homelessness, she and her sister are being sent to live with their grandmother in another state.

NEW YORK, 1 March 2005 - The proportion of children living in poverty, or on less than $1 per day, has risen in most of the world’s developed countries since the early 1990’s, according to UNICEF’s latest report from the Innocenti Research Centre in Florence.

This publication is the sixth in the Innocenti Report Card series, which is designed to monitor the performance of industrialized countries in promoting the human rights of their children. It is also the first in a series of Innocenti reports on ‘Child Poverty in Rich Countries.’

The report asks what is driving poverty rates upwards and why some Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries are doing a much better job than others in protecting children at risk.

At the top of the child poverty league are Denmark and Finland with child poverty rates of less than 3 per cent, but Norway is the only OECD country where child poverty can be described as ‘very low and continuing to fall’. At the bottom are the United States and Mexico, with child poverty rates of more than 20 per cent.

“The results are striking”, says UNICEF’s Senior Advisor on Global Policy, Gaspar Fajth. “It’s very clear that government expenditure and intervention is like a safety belt for children.  We know this is the case in poor countries but this report also finds this to be the case in rich countries.”

© UNICEF/HQ97-0211/Press
A homeless boy surrounded by his family stands in the doorway of the Halifax Urban Ministries' soup kitchen on the east coast of the USA.

Child poverty does not mean the same in wealthy countries as in the developing world, where half of all children do not have access to basic health care or schooling.  The figures refer to relative poverty, which is defined as having an income below 50 per cent of the national median.  What they show is that 40 to 50 million children living in some of the world’s wealthiest countries,  are growing up in poverty.

“The core message of this report”, says Fajth, “is that no country, not even the richest countries of the world can reduce child poverty consistently and significantly without paying attention to the political process.  No country, not even the richest countries, can reduce child poverty unless they define very clearly what they mean by child poverty.  No country, not even the richest countries can achieve a considerable recduction to child poverty if they don’t give priority to children.”

The report considers three main factors that have a crucial impact on child poverty: demographic & family factors; labour market factors including changes in parents’ earnings and employment; and government intervention.  The results suggest there is significant potential for governments to reduce child poverty without spending more money.  Countries in the middle ranges are shown to have different spending patterns, so it is not a question of how much money, but more a question of how it is spent.

Fajth concludes that the report is not intended as a criticism of any country, but as a means for promoting dialogue on the subject. “The aim,” he says, “is for countries to learn from one another how to successfully reduce child poverty.”




25 February 2005: UNICEF’s senior advisor on global policy Gaspar Fajth discusses the findings of the Innocenti report.

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