Social Policy


UNICEF in action: Strategy & priorities

Child poverty

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Child poverty

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1250/Pirozzi
A toddler stands in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Generally, poverty is understood as income poverty, and is based on data collected at the household level. While important, for children such measures are far from sufficient, and can mask the life-changing deprivations to their rights they may be experiencing: A certain income level does not necessarily mean a household has all it needs to provide what a child needs for a good start in life, nor that children are prioritised in household expenditures. Indeed, it may be the labour of children themselves that is putting a household above the poverty line.

While an adult may become poor temporarily, falling into poverty in childhood can last a lifetime, because rarely does a child get a second chance to learn and grow healthy. As such, measuring child poverty needs to rather focus on whether children face deprivations to a range of their rights such as health, education, nutrition, participation and protection from harm, exploitation and discrimination.

Understanding all the implications of child poverty is vital to address its consequences. As long as policy debates focus solely on income poverty, however, children will miss out, and the battle to end the cycle of poverty will be undermined.

To help better understand the impact of child poverty, UNICEF in 2007 initiated a Global Study on Child Poverty and Disparities. The study is carried out in 47 countries around the world, including eight countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa region (ESAR) - Burundi, Lesotho, Madagascar, Comoros, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The study will produce comparable analyses on child poverty and disparities in nutrition, health, education and child and social protection through collaboration with national and international partners. The results and process of the study are expected to generate evidence, insights and networks that can be used as leverage to influence national development plans, and to inspire and feed into poverty reduction strategies or sector-wide approaches, common country assessments and other development instruments.

The aim of the Global Study is to strengthen the profile of children at the national policy table, influencing the economic and social policies that affect resource allocations, and to make children a priority in national programmes.

National reports for some countries have already been published, showing that child poverty is widespread in the region. In Burundi, for example, 68 percent of households live in poverty, which largely impacts children. Large disparities exist in the country, with rural children and girls experiencing greater level of poverty and deprivation.

In Mozambique, 48 percent of children lived in absolute poverty in 2008 while in Tanzania approximately half (48 percent) of all children in rural Tanzania suffer three or more severe deprivations, of which water and shelter deprivation were the most common.

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