Social policy

Every child deserves an equitable chance in life.

Girls in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, embrace each other with smiles.
UNICEF/UN0288499/Frank Dejongh

Around the world, nearly one in three children – roughly 663 million – live in poverty. Of these, some 385 million experience extreme poverty, struggling to survive on less than $1.90 a day. Children – especially young children – are more likely to live in poverty than adults. They are also more vulnerable to its effects.

Poverty robs children of the things they need most for survival and development, like nutrition, education, health services, water and sanitation. As children grow, the consequences of poverty are compounded, taking an enormous toll on their well-being – and their ability to build a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

On average, poor children worldwide die before their fifth birthday at twice the rate of their better-off peers.

The choices governments make about where and how to spend public resources are critical to breaking cycles of poverty. Social protection programmes like cash transfers, health insurance and education subsidies have proven benefits: They reduce child poverty and improve access to good nutrition, health care and education.

But global coverage is low. For two out of every three children, social protection remains out of reach.

Nearly two thirds of children worldwide are not protected from the lifelong consequences of poverty.

Children are left behind for various reasons. Critical social services are often underfunded, and funds that are available tend to favour services that never reach impoverished children. Local governments – increasingly responsible for providing health, education and other services – frequently lack the capacity to determine where and how children are missing out. Without resources to collect local data and consult the communities they serve, decision makers may struggle to develop plans and budgets that reach children in need.

For children affected by humanitarian crises, challenges intensify. Protracted conflicts, violence and climate change exacerbate poverty and inequity, forcing those with the fewest resources to bear the greatest burden.

A 10-year-old girl smiles from behind a window in Iraq.
UNICEF/UN0148876/Anmar
Sara, 10 years old, sits at home in Mosul, Iraq. Her family receives cash vouchers, which give them the flexibility to decide how to meet their needs. “I use the money for food,” Sara’s mother says. “This is the most important thing for the children because it helps them focus on classes. Who can learn on an empty stomach?”

UNICEF’s response

UNICEF aims to reduce child poverty and give all children an equitable chance in life. Together with partners, we help level the playing field for disadvantaged children, including those uprooted by war and violence.

Child poverty

UNICEF calls for all Governments to recognize child poverty as a national policy priority and protect children from its most devastating effects. We support countries’ efforts to assess both monetary and multidimensional child poverty – measures of poverty and deprivation that go beyond income – and to address them through policies, programmes and budgets.

Social protection

UNICEF helps countries strengthen and expand social protection systems that support the well-being of all children, especially those most at risk of discrimination and exclusion. This includes supporting the development and expansion of national cash transfer programmes, and strengthening social protection systems so that all families gain access to health care, education and social welfare, even in the face of humanitarian crises.  

Public finance for children

UNICEF supports national and local governments to mobilize, allocate and improve the utilization of public financial resources to deliver more equitable and sustainable social services and contribute to better results for children.

Local governance

UNICEF helps build the capacity of local governments – in both urban and rural contexts – to generate local data, plan and organize services, prepare for emergencies, budget equitably and monitor the impact of interventions on children.

 

Results for children

In 2018, UNICEF worked in more than 150 countries to:

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