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Press Centre

Root Causes of Exclusion

Discrimination, poverty, HIV/AIDS, armed conflict, and weak governance are major root causes of exclusion that shut children out of school, healthcare and other vital services. Children who are denied these vital services are more likely to fall prey to abuse and exploitation.


For every 100 boys who are not in primary school, there are 117 girls who miss out on primary education, largely due to gender discrimination. More than 40 countries have failed to meet the Millennium Development Goal of gender parity in primary school by 2005. Gender also plays a major role in limiting women’s access to basic healthcare, which increases the risk of both mothers and children dying from preventable causes.

Almost 900 million people belong to groups that experience disadvantage as a result of their identity. Indigenous children who suffer discrimination are less likely to be registered at birth and more prone to poor health, low enrolment in school and to violence, abuse and exploitation. In the Amazonian region of Ecuador, for example, only 21 per cent of children under the age of five have a birth certificate, compared with the national average of 89 per cent.

An estimated 150 million children live with disabilities globally, most of whom live with the reality of discrimination and exclusion. The vast majority of children with disabilities in the developing world have no access to rehabilitative healthcare services or support services, and many are denied an opportunity for formal education. Between 250,000 and 500,000 children are still blinded each year by Vitamin A deficiency, a syndrome easily prevented by oral supplementation costing just a few cents.


Children in the poorest countries face far higher risks of death, illness and malnutrition, and are far more likely to miss out on school, than children in the rest of the developing world. In the least developed countries:

  • 1 in every 6 children dies before the age of five. 1 in 10 dies before the age of one.

  • 1 in every 2 girls of primary school age is not in primary school.

  • 1 in every 3 children under the age of five – 42 million children – is moderately or severely underweight.

  • 1 in every 4 infants is not immunized against measles, a disease that kills more than 500,000 children every year.

Income Inequalities
In countries across the developing world, children in the poorest homes are at least twice as likely to die before the age of five as children in the richest homes. Those of primary school age are three times more likely to miss out on school.

These and other inequalities are a glaring sign of the extent of exclusion within communities, but are masked by national averages that indicate the well-being of children and are used to measure progress on the Millennium Development Goals. The danger for children is that these huge inequalities can be hidden within the averages.


The pandemic is taking an increasingly high toll on children. Millions of children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS are missing out on schooling, protection and even the most basic care and prevention services.

  • Every minute, a child under the age of 15 dies because of AIDS.

  • 1 in every 8 new global HIV infections is a child under 15.

  • 15 million children have already lost one or both parents to AIDS.


The chaos of armed conflict severely undermines children’s survival and well-being and interferes with their access to education and other vital services. Nine of the twelve countries where 1 in 5 children dies before their fifth birthday have suffered a major armed conflict in the past five years. The net primary school attendance ratio for girls and boys in these nine countries is well below the averages of the poorest countries.


Children suffer tremendously when countries are unwilling or unable to provide basic services to their citizens, whether as a result of conflict, corruption or a lack of accountable institutions. Children in Haiti and Zimbabwe, for example, cannot wait for governance to improve or their entire childhoods could be lost.