Poor access to education, food or health-care services has particular implications for women and children. The large disparities in most regions between the numbers of girls and boys who have never attended school are telling evidence of the discrimination that girls and women face. Gender discrimination is widely recognized as a major contributor to children living in poverty: how resources are earned, valued and distributed depend on power relationships between men and women within the household as well as within society.
Poverty denies children safety, dignity and protection
Each year, tens of millions of children are victims of exploitation, violence and abuse. Some are abducted from their homes and schools and recruited into armed forces. Some are trafficked and forced to work in prostitution and sweatshops, or needlessly deprived of parental care and forced into early marriage, or subjected to violence and abuse in the home, school and community. The effects of these abuses are far-reaching and enduring; they rob children of their childhood, preventing them from fulfilling anything close to their full potential.
Many child protection abuses are linked to deeply entrenched material deprivations. One of the most obvious ways in which material poverty facilitates exploitation and abuse is through child labour. Material deprivation creates economic needs that can force even the most vulnerable children – such as those caught up in armed conflict, or orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS – into hazardous labour, often at the expense of their education and recreation. Currently, 180 million children are engaged in the worst forms of child labour.
Material deprivation also makes children more vulnerable to trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year; 2 million children, the majority of them girls, are sexually exploited in the multibillion-dollar commercial sex industry.
While poverty exacerbates child protection abuses, it is equally true that abuse often forces children into material deprivation, or exacerbates their existing poverty. Violence and abuse at home can force children onto the streets, where they are more likely to become entrenched in poverty. Discrimination can be an obstacle to learning at school and can cause children to drop out. Exploitation generates poverty by keeping children out of school, in poor health and subject to further psychological and physical abuse.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear that it is the duty of governments and parents to provide the protective environment required to ensure that all children experience childhood in safety and dignity.