Home / Version française / Versión en español / Copyright

The effects of poverty on early childhood

When poverty engulfs a family, the youngest are the most affected and most vulnerable - their rights to survival, growth and development at risk. A child born today in the developing world has a 4 out of 10 chance of living in extreme poverty. This poverty defines every aspect of the child's existence, from malnutrition, lack of clean water and inadequate sanitation, to life expectancy. It is the main underlying cause of millions of preventable deaths and the reason why children are malnourished, miss out on school or are abused and exploited. And it is at the core of a pervasive violation of children's rights. Poverty's cycle does not stop in one lifetime. A girl born to poverty is more likely to marry early and have a child while still an adolescent. A malnourished girl becomes a malnourished mother, who will give birth to an underweight baby. And, like their parents, poor children are likely to transmit their poverty to the next generation.

Poverty does not exist solely in the developing world. Pockets of impoverishment exist throughout the industrialized world as well. About 3 million people in 15 countries of the European Union lack permanent housing. In the United States, about 17 per cent of all children, roughly 12 million live in households struggling to meet basic nutritional needs. Throughout the industrialized world, mothers and fathers, often with babies in tow, seek services for their children.

Early childhood intervention offers a critical opportunity to break the poverty cycle. When governments channel adequate funds to basic social services, the poorest children and communities are able to lead healthier and more productive lives. Starting in the first year, when the foundations are laid for lifelong educational attainment, health and productivity, UNICEF supports programmes that provide very young children with good health care, adequate nutrition, intellectual stimulation, protection from violence and opportunities to play. Ensuring the rights and survival of the youngest children and guaranteeing that they will receive a quality education are the most important stepping stones out of poverty.