© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0442/Andrew Cullen

Child poverty in context

Child poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon and can be measured in many ways.  It is imperative that governments make a commitment to child poverty reduction, recognizing and responding to child poverty is the first priority, alongside building expertise and improved approaches to child poverty measurement.  Understanding child poverty to the fullest possible extent is vital. While an adult may fall into poverty temporarily, falling into poverty in childhood can last a lifetime – rarely does a child get a second chance at an education or a healthy start in life. As such, child poverty threatens not only the individual child, but is likely to be passed on to future generations, entrenching and even exacerbating inequality in society. UNICEF is working to more fully understand how and where children are experiencing poverty, to allow a more nuanced set of policy responses in mechanisms such as poverty-reduction strategies.

Child poverty can be captured by looking at individual children directly as well as the households that they live in.  However, some of the poorest children in the world live outside of households – on the streets or in institutions.  UNICEF’s approach to child poverty places importance on identifying deprivations and violations of children’s human rights and assessing these alongside the more commonly used measures of monetary poverty.  Good levels of nutrition, being properly immunized against diseases, having access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation, quality education,  early childhood development stimulation and protection from violence are all hugely important investments in ensuring that children reach their full potential, particularly for those children in low income households or children living in adverse conditions.  UNICEF policies and programmes respond to these child and household level needs in low and middle income countries. In recent years, UNICEF has also taken a lead in ensuring that social protection programmes are designed and implemented with children, and particularly the poorest children, in mind.  Integrated social protection is part of UNICEF’s Social Protection Strategic Framework and brings together services and cash monetary needs for children.  This completes the circle in a holistic assessment of child poverty by integrating monetary and non-monetary needs to ensure adequate levels of consumption that meet children’s basic needs, as well as providing the key interventions to ensure that children thrive. 

UNICEF has various on-going projects related to child poverty, among them:


  • Meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing ‘extreme poverty’ involves moving many children out of monetary poverty by 2015 as well as ensuring they are not hungry or malnourished. Recognizing children are often key determinants of monetary poverty risk; UNICEF works on improving child poverty profiles in low income countries that adopt robust ways of identifying poverty across monetary and non-monetary approaches and addresses equity concerns. This analysis in turn helps improve UNICEF’s influence on national policies and programmes aimed at disadvantaged children. 
  • Recognizing that child poverty is not only present in low income countries, UNICEF has partnered with LIS for child poverty analysis in Middle Income Countries.
  • UNICEF has developed approaches to profiling multi-dimensional child deprivation, in 2007 UNICEF launched the Global Study on Child Poverty and Disparities a multi-country study that looked at both child deprivations, and policies that address these deprivations.  National reports from these studies have made children a higher priority in many national policy agendas and gave rise to collaborations that are still addressing children’s needs and rights today. Read more about the study.
  • New approaches to multi-dimensional measurement are being introduced through child focused Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA), results from which will be made available soon. 


Visualization of economic trends and child outcomes

Tips on selecting variables, depending on the story you want to tell:

An example: As economic growth has lifted many developing countries in terms of per capita GDP, there has emerged a positive corridor of progress in reducing under five mortality and malnutrition incidences. However, the degree of progress varies considerably and even among countries with similar pace of economic development. Today, the majority of deprived children in terms of the number of deaths under five and the number of malnourished children are found in those countries classified as middle income by the World Bank (and the UN).

For this story, you may select the following:

-  horizontal axis as per capita GDP in constant US$ 2000 price (set it in log)
-  vertical axis as the under-five mortality prevalence rate
-  the size of the bubble as actual number of under five deaths
-  the color as income group evolving over time

You can also click on individual country bubble, to label and track a particular country.
Source: Childinfo, WDIs, and WEO

1) Under Five mortality and GDP per capita (1960-2010) – UNICEF Social Policy and Economic Analyses unit: 2) Stunting and GDP per capita (1980-2008) – UNICEF Social Policy and Economic Analyses unit: 3) Public Expenditures (1980-2016) - UNICEF Social Policy and Economic Analyses unit:



Child Poverty Reports

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