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Mali: assessing child poverty and disparities towards better results for children

© UNICEF/Mali/2008/Pirozzi

In September 2007, UNICEF launched a global initiative for the comparative study of childhood poverty and disparities in 40 countries, with the aim of fostering understanding on how economic and social policies can better achieve results for children.

So as to obtain a holistic view of poverty, the study takes into consideration various aspects of poverty, such as monetary poverty, inadequate living conditions and deprivation.

Mali is one of the first countries in West and Central Africa to complete the study, which was undertaken in partnership with the Direction nationale de la statistique of the Ministry of economics, industry and commerce and the University of Mali, with the support of Macro International and Bristol University in the United Kingdom.

 Download the report (in French)

Interview with Marcel Kanyankore Rudasingwa, UNICEF Representative in Mali

Q: Why a study on child poverty and disparities in Mali?
A: Mali has made significant progress in combating household poverty since 2001. The national poverty alleviation strategy has borne fruit: between 2001 and 2006, monetary poverty fell 8 points, from 55.6% to 47.4%.

This progress, albeit laudable, is insufficient to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Close to half of Mali’s population lives below the poverty line (less than a dollar a day) and the rates of improvement of living conditions and access to basic social services are insufficient.

To build on what has been achieved since 2001 and accelerate progress towards attaining the MDGs, while fulfilling children and women’s rights in Mali, better knowledge was needed of the extent of deprivation and disparities affecting children and the most-at-risks groups. The information is essential to better target public policies that can translate into results for children.

Q: what lessons can be drawn from the studies?
The study offers a snapshot of the state of children in Mali, of the deprivation and disparities children face in terms of nutrition, education, access to basic health services, access to water and housing.

The study shows that among 5.1 million children under 15, more than 4.3 millions – that’s 8 out of 10 children – face severe deprivation in at least one of the 7 areas researched. Children suffer the most severe deprivation in matters of housing and education; in rural areas and in the regions of Kayes, Mopti, Tombouctou and Gao.

The study shows that poverty – as a measure of access to basic social services –is felt more by children belonging to single-parent households, or households headed by an adolescent, an elderly person, a woman or a person who never went to school.

It also reveals that malnutrition touches twice as many children from poor households and that children from such households are twice as likely not to go to school as children from non-poor families. In terms of access to education, the study indicates encouraging progress in disparity reduction. It shows that pragrammes inciting school attendance through cash transfers to poor families have helped reduce the disparities of access to primary education in the region of Mopti.

The study also tells us that the decline in under-5 child mortality benefited three times fewer children from poor households than children from non poor households. However, and this is encouraging, advanced strategies and mass campaigns did reach the most vulnerable groups and thus reduced the gap between rich and poor with vaccination against measles, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

The study proves that education, in particular of heads of households and of mothers, is an essential factor of poverty alleviation and for reducing disparities among children. An educated mother is in a better position to successfully treat her child against common, but possibly fatal, illnesses such as diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria.

Q: What are the public policy implications?
The study maps the disparities in basic services coverage by region, by area of residence (urban or rural) and by gender. It also shows advances made in reducing these inequalities at the national and regional level between 2001 and 2006, and allows us to draw lessons from the existing measures or programmes that are the most beneficial to the poorest.

Also, it is an irreplaceable tool for targeting policies in favor of the most vulnerable groups. It is also a useful as an advocacy tool to mobilize resources and optimize their utilization. Overall, the study advocates for implementing social protection mechanisms.

Q: What priority actions stand out in report?
The priority of priorities is putting children at the heart of public policies and national budgets, so that these work for children, who make up half the population.

It is of the utmost importance that mechanisms that reinforce the financial capacity of families and their social protection be promoted, so as to counter the financial constraints that serve as an obstacle to the realization of children’s and women’s rights. To this end, initiatives piloted in the Kayes and Mopti regions could be replicated elsewhere.

At a programmatic level, the priority is implementing a policy of free mandatory primary education, of mandatory health insurance and facilitated access to medical care for indigents.

Q : Are the Government and its partners taking up the challenge of reducing child poverty and inequalities ?
A: I believe the Government of Mali and its partners proved their commitment when the Government took legal steps in January 2009 to set up mandatory health insurance and a healthcare assistance fund for the poorest 5%.

The study aspires to contribute to reinvigorating the fight against poverty and to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable, and children in particular. One can only be thrilled at the political and financial jolt it comes with.

 Download the report (in French)

© UNICEF/Mali/2007/Pirozzi

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