Child poverty

  (Redirected from Child Poverty)

Child poverty refers to the state of children living in poverty and applies to children from poor families or orphans being raised with limited or—in some cases—absent state resources. Children that fail to meet the minimum acceptable standard of the nation where that child lives are said to be poor. In developing countries, these standards are low and, when combined with the increased number of orphans, the effects are more extreme.

Two sisters sit on the slum streets of Spitalfields, London, circa 1903.

An estimated 385 million children live in extreme poverty.[1] According to the UNICEF:

  • 663 million children, that is one in three children, live in poverty
  • Children from the poorest households die at twice the rate of their better-off peers
  • Children are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than adults
  • 385 million children live in extreme poverty, forced to survive on less than $1.90 a day


The definition of children in most countries is "people under the age of eighteen",[2] while biologically the transition from childhood to adulthood is said to occur with the onset of puberty. Culturally defining the end of childhood is more complex, and takes into account factors such as the commencement of work, end of schooling and marriage as well as class, gender and race.[3]

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) "children living in poverty are those who experience deprivation of the material, spiritual and emotional resources needed to stay alive, develop and thrive, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential, and participate as full and equal members of society".[4]

The ChildFund International (CFI) definition is based on Deprivation (lack of materialistic conditions and services), Exclusion (denial of rights and safety) and Vulnerability (when society can not deal with threats to children).[5] Other charitable organisations also use this multi-dimensional approach to child poverty, defining it as a combination of economic, social, cultural, physical, environmental and emotional factors.[6] These definitions suggest child poverty is multidimensional, relative to their current and changing living conditions and complex interactions of the body, mind and emotions are involved.[7]

Measuring Child PovertyEdit

A boy washes cutlery in a pool of filthy water in Cambodia

The easiest way to quantify child poverty is by setting an absolute or relative monetary threshold.[8] If a family does not earn above that threshold, the children of that family will be considered to live below the poverty line. Absolute poverty thresholds are fixed and generally updated only for price changes, but relative poverty thresholds are developed with reference to the actual income of the population and reflect changes in consumption.[9] The absolute poverty threshold is the money needed to purchase a defined quantity of goods and services,[7] and every threshold generally reflects the minimum income required to acquire necessities of life. However, a caveat is that as a family that earns above a set threshold may still choose to not spend on the need of their children.[10] Certain organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, use the absolute poverty threshold of US$1 a day to measure poverty in developing countries.[11][12] Since the 1960s, the US has used an absolute poverty threshold adjusted for family size and composition to determine those living in poverty.[13]

Europe and many other developed countries use a relative poverty threshold, typically 50% of the countries' median income.[14] Relative poverty does not necessarily mean the child is lacking anything, but is more a reflection of inequality in society. Child poverty, when measured using relative thresholds, will improve only if low-income families benefit more from economic advances than well-off families.[14] Measures of child poverty using income thresholds will vary depending on whether relative or absolute poverty is measured and what threshold limits are applied. Using a relative measure, poverty is much higher in the US than in Europe, but if an absolute measure is used, d without discrimination.[7]

A 2003 study conducted by researchers out of Bristol attempted to provide a scientific basis for measuring severe deprivation based on levels of adequate nutrition, safe drinking water, decent sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, and information.[15] Measurable values were attributed to each indicator and these were used to establish how many children were living in poverty. The values included: heights and weights more than 3 deviations below the international median, children with access only to rivers and other surface water, no access to toilets, no immunisations, no access to medical advice, living in dwellings with more than five people per room, no school attendance and no access to newspapers or other media. Out of a population of 1.8 billion children from developing nations, 56% were below at least one of these measurements. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, this number increased to over 80%, with the rural children from these areas the worst affected.

The Young Lives Project is investigating the changing nature of child poverty by following nearly 12,000 children for 15 years in four countries (Ethiopia, Peru, Vietnam and India), chosen to reflect a wide range of cultural, political, geographical and social contexts.[16] Every three to four years, researchers will collect data on the children and their families health, malnutrition, literacy, access to services and other indicators of poverty. Reports are available for these four countries that comparing the initial data obtained in 2002 with data from 2006.[17] Peru, Vietnam and India have shown economic growth and a reduction in poverty over this time, but large inequalities still exist between rural and urban areas, and among ethnic groups.[18][19] This is particularly obvious in India, a country with the second largest population of billionaires but also home to 25% of the world's poor.[20] Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, has also shown slight economic growth and reduction in poverty. Inequalities still exist, with boys more likely to be malnourished than girls and more absolute poverty in rural areas, although relative poverty is higher in urban areas.[21] This data was collected before the 2008 drought and the recent increase in food prices, which have had a severe impact on the ability of Ethiopia to feed its population.

Capability approach and the Child Development IndexEdit

Recently,[when?] debate among philosophers and theorists on how to define and measure poverty stems from the emergence of the human capability approach, where poverty is defined by Hi Kos extent of freedoms that a person possesses. Amartya Sen, the creator of the capability approach, argues that there are five fundamental freedoms that should be available to all humans: political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security.[22] He also suggests that they are all interconnected, where each freedom fosters and/or enhances the others.[22]

Additionally, the capability approach claims that development should be considered a process of expanding freedoms or removing the major sources of unfreedom rather than a focus on narrower measurements such as growth of gross national product, per capita income, or industrialization.[22] According to ILO's basic needs approach (which in most aspects is quite like the capability approach), the objective of development should be to provide all humans with the opportunity to a full life, which goes beyond abstractions such as money, income, or employment.[23] Therefore, the definition and measurement of poverty in general must extend beyond measurements like per capita GDP, which tools such as the Human Development Index attempt to accomplish.

In light of this, a UK initiative, Save the Children, has also developed a measurement of child poverty based on measures of capability, called the Child Development Index (CDI).[24] CDI is an index that combines performance measures specific to children – primary education, child health, and child nutrition – to produce a score on a scale of 0 to 100, with zero being the best with higher scores indicating worse performances.[24] According to Save the Children, each of the indicators was chosen because it was easily accessible, universally understood, and clearly indicative of child wellbeing.[24] Health measures under-five mortality rate; nutrition measures the percentage of children under five who are moderately or severely underweight (which is two standard deviations below the median weight for age of the reference population); and education measures the percentage of primary school-age children that are not enrolled in school.[24] In terms of opportunities and capabilities, CDI is the most appropriate measurement of child poverty.[24]

Of the estimated 2.2 billion children worldwide, about a billion, or every second child, live in poverty.[25] Of the 1.9 billion children in developing nations, 640 million are without adequate shelter; 400 million are without access to safe water; 270 million have no access to health services.[25] In 2003, 10.6 million children died before reaching the age of five, which is equivalent to the total child population of France, Germany, Greece, and Italy.[25] 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation while 2.2 million die each year due to lack of immunizations.[25]

The Child Development Index also illustrates relative child poverty compared across all regions of the world (see Measuring child poverty).[24]

  • World performance: CDI = 17.5
  • Africa: CDI = 34.5
  • Middle East/North Africa: CDI = 11.2
  • Central/East Europe and Central Asia: CDI = 9.2
  • South Asia: CDI = 26.4
  • East Asia: CDI = 8.5
  • Latin America and Caribbean: CDI = 6.8
  • Developed Countries: CDI = 2.1

The CDI in Africa is twice that of the world average, and South Asia also fares poorly in relation to the global performance.[24] In contrast, the CDI in developed countries is one-ninth of the world CDI, indicating a clear distinction between developing and developed nations.[24]

However, in 2013, child poverty reached record high levels in the United States, with 16.7 million children, more than 20%, living in food insecure households. 47 million Americans depend on food banks, more than 30% above 2007 levels. Households headed by single mothers are most likely to be affected. Worst affected are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida, while North Dakota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota and Massachusetts are the least affected.[26]


The majority of poverty-stricken children are born to poor parents. Therefore, the causes such as adult poverty, government policies, lack of education, unemployment, social services, disabilities and discrimination significantly affect the presence of child poverty. Lack of parental economic resources such as disposable income restricts children's opportunities.[27] Economic and demographic factors such as deindustrialization, globalization, residential segregation, labor market segmentation, and migration of middle-class residents from inner cities, constrain economic opportunities and choices across generation, isolating inner city poor children.[27]

The decline of the nuclear family, illegitimacy, teen pregnancy, and increased numbers of single mothers, is also cited as a major cause of poverty and welfare dependency for women and their children.[27] Children resulting from unintended pregnancies are more likely to live in poverty;[28] raising a child requires significant resources, so each additional child increases demands on parental resources. Families raised by a single parent are generally poorer than those raised by couples.[29] In the United States, 6 of 10 long term poor children have spent time in single-parent families[27] and in 2007, children living in households headed by single mothers were five times as likely as children living in households headed by married parents to be living in poverty.[30]

Many of the apparent negative associations between growing up poor and children's attainments reflect unmeasured parental advantages that positively affect both parents’ incomes and children's attainments, like parental depression.[27]


A boy bathes in a polluted river in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The effect of child poverty differs based on the social-economic-geographic aspects.

the direct effect of child poverty are:

  • Poor physical health
  • Effect on mental development and mental health of the child (such as low self esteem)
  • Chances of being part of skilled labour is very low
  • Experience a highly deprived and isolated life at a very tender age

Developed countriesEdit

Developed countries also have a serious problem with child poverty. If all the 16.7 million poor children in America were gathered in one place, they would form a city bigger than New York.[31] Many published studies have demonstrated strong associations between childhood poverty and the child's adult outcomes in education, health and socialization, fertility, labor market, and income. Strong evidence suggests that children of low income parents have an increased risk of intellectual and behavioral development problems.[32] Large negative associations between poverty during early childhood and academic outcomes have been consistently found in many studies.[27] Furthermore, children in poverty have a greater risk of displaying behavior and emotional problems, such as impulsiveness and difficulty getting along with peers, and family poverty is associated with higher risk for teen childbearing, less positive peer relations, and lower self-esteem.[33] These behaviors increase the chances of children who grew up in poverty to stay in poverty.[34]

In terms of economic disadvantages, adults who experienced persistent childhood poverty are more likely to fall below the poverty line at least once later in life.[33] Poor boys work fewer hours per year, earn lower hourly wages, receive lower annual earnings, and spend more week idle in their mid-twenties.[27] Paternal income is also strongly associated with adult economic status.[27] The National Academy of Sciences found that "childhood poverty and chronic stress may lead to problems regulating emotions as an adult". Not only can growing up in poverty affect physical health, it can have an effect on your future as well. Growing up in poverty has been statistically proven to increase an individual's probability of going to prison, becoming an addict, mental illness, or not completing highs chool.[35] Because of these things, children who grow up in poverty often end up staying in poverty and repeating the cycle.[34][36][37]

Also, childhood poverty in the first three years of life is related to substandard nutritional status and poor motor skills; in contrast, poverty is also associated with child obesity – as they get older, poor children are more likely to have chronic health problems, such as asthma and anemia.[33] These impacts probably reflect issues related to poverty including a substandard diet, inferior housing conditions, poor neighborhood environment, reduced access to goods and activities and the psychological stress stemming from these factors.[38]

The relationship between childhood poverty and later negative adult outcomes has been found to be relatively small in other research.[39] In one systematic analysis, family income only "modestly" affected likelihood of teen pregnancy and male unemployment.[40]

Developing countries

Children of road workers near Rishikesh, India.
James Town, Accra.

Using a relative measure of child poverty, an impoverished child growing up in a developing country suffers more hardship than most children living in poverty in a developed country. Poverty in these countries is a condition usually characterised by a severe deprivation of basic human needs (UN,1995). It is estimated that one third of all children in developing countries (~674 million) are living in poverty, the highest rates being in the rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (over 70%).[41] War, disease, corruption, lack of resources and harsh environmental conditions afflict many of these countries, contributing to their poverty. These factors are a major cause of death, which in turn leads to a higher number of single parents and orphaned children. All UN member states have ratified the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, with the exception of the United States and South Sudan, which aims at reducing violations to a number of rights relevant to reducing child poverty in different countries.[42] A review published by UNICEF in 2009, found declines in under five mortality, less child malnourishment, increases in breastfeeding, improved water systems and better education access.[43] It also states that despite these improvements 24 000 children still die each day from mostly preventable diseases, 150 million 5- to 14-year-olds are involved in child labour and 100 million primary aged children go without schooling. There are still great inequalities within populations, with girls and children from rural areas more likely to suffer poor health, education and survival than boys and urban populations. Notable state attempts to tackle child poverty in the developing world, include Brazil's Bolsa Familia initiative (reaches 12 million households) and South Africa's Child Grant (7 million households.[44] Elsewhere, child specific social protection policies and programmes are few and the institutions to implement them are often lacking.[44]

Cycle of povertyEdit

The cycle of poverty is when a family remains in poverty over many successive generations. For this reason reducing child poverty has been a focus of almost all governments as a way to break this cycle. Improving the quality of education provided to the poor is seen by most as the best way to break this cycle.[45] Improving the environment the child grows up in, ensuring access to health, and providing financial incentives (either through benefit schemes or reducing taxes) have all been suggested as ways to break the cycle[citation needed].

Boys and girls have equal rates of poverty through their childhoods but as women enter their teens and childbearing years the rates of poverty between the genders widens. Globally, women are far more impoverished than men and poor children are more likely to live in female-headed households. Attempts to combat the cycle of poverty, therefore, have often targeted mothers as a way to interrupt the negative patterns of poverty that affect the education, nutrition/health, and psychological/social outcomes for poor children.[46]

Policy implicationsEdit

According to the Overseas Development Institute, greater visibility for children's rights issues is needed in donor policies and attempts should be made to emulate the success achieved using gender markers to develop gender-sensitive development policy.[30] They believe major influential players in the children's rights community – the UNICEF, UNFPA and NGOs, such as Save the Children, Plan International and World Vision – should do more to highlight the impact of mainstream macro-policies issues on children.[30] The Overseas Development Institute further suggests that an international commission be established to address the impact of the 3-F crisis (food, financial and fuel) on children as a platform for dialogue and new initiatives.[30]

However, determining the appropriate policies for dealing with long-term childhood poverty and intergenerational economic inequality is hotly debated, as are most proposed policy solutions, and depends on the effects that most impact the region. In order to combat the lack of resources available in developed nations, policies must be developed that deliver resources to poor families and raise skill levels of poor children by building on successful welfare-to-work initiatives and maintaining financial work supports, such as Earned Income Tax Credit, refundable child care tax credits and housing vouchers.[27][33] Combating poverty in developed countries also means improving the schools that exist there. In order to help children in poverty, schools need to invest more money in school meals, libraries, and healthcare.[47] To effectively address economic, demographic and cultural changes, economic and social service strategies to reverse the factors that generated the urban underclass, such as providing jobs and social services policies that deal with the effects of isolation, should be implemented.[27][33] Finally, in order to reduce the cycle of poverty for children and families, policies should be aimed at expanding economic opportunities especially for disadvantaged girls.[27]


UNICEF advocates for greater national investments in social protection and supports government efforts to track and monitor progress on poverty reduction.

The roots of the problem lie in a mix of:

  • a failure to prioritize the social protection programmes that have the greatest benefits for children
  • limited budgets and human resources
  • barriers such as bureaucratic processes and lack of information about entitlements and programmes, and
  • discrimination against the most vulnerable people, including those who receive social protection.

The result: the most vulnerable children in the region are not being reached by benefits to which they are entitled.

Aiming for an end to poverty – in line with Sustainable Development Goal 1 – UNICEF is working with governments and other partners across the region to halve child poverty by 2030 and strengthen social protection systems to diminish the impact of poverty on their lives.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Child poverty". Retrieved 2021-10-21.
  2. ^ “Convention on the Rights of the Child”"Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-10-31. Retrieved 2010-01-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) (1989) Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  3. ^ Childfund (2005) “Child and Poverty, Part I” Downloadable at
  5. ^ Childfund (2005) "Understanding Children’s Experience of Poverty: An Introduction to the DEV Framework" Downloadable at [1]
  6. ^ Childhood Poverty Research and Policy Center (CHIP) (2005) "CHIP Briefing 1: Children and Poverty" [2]
  7. ^ a b c UNICEF (2006) "Children Living In Poverty"
  8. ^ Roelen, Keetie and Gassmann, Franziska (2007) "Measuring Child Poverty and Well-Being: a literature review" Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University (pdf available at the Munich Personal RePEc Archive) (MPRA) [3]
  9. ^ Citro and Michael (1995) "Introduction and overview"[4] in Measuring Child Poverty and Well-Being: a literature review National Academy Press, page 32 (downloadable from US Census site [5] Archived 2010-12-09 at the Wayback Machine)
  10. ^ Lipina, Sebastián J; Simonds, Jennifer; Segretin, M. Soledad (2011). "Recognizing the child in child poverty". Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies. 6 (1): 8–17. doi:10.1080/17450128.2010.521598. S2CID 72294325.
  11. ^ [World Bank "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2010-01-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)]
  12. ^ [International Monetary Fund]
  13. ^ Citro and Michael (1995) "Introduction and overview"[6] in Measuring Child Poverty and Well-Being: a literature review National Academy Press, p. 24 Poverty Measurement Archived 2010-12-09 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ a b UNICEF (2005) "Child Poverty in Rich Countries 2005"
  15. ^ David Gordon, Shailen Nandy, Christina Pantazis, Simon Pemberton (2003) "Child poverty in the developing world" School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol and Peter Townsend, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, London School of Economics and Political Science. Google Books [7]
  16. ^ Young Lives ["An international study of childhood poverty" "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-22. Retrieved 2010-01-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)]
  17. ^ Young Lives ["Initial Young Lives Round 2 Country Reports and Key Findings"[permanent dead link]]
  18. ^ Young Lives "Young Lives: Peru Round 2 Survey – Report Summary document" [8][permanent dead link]
  19. ^ Young Lives "Young Lives: Vietnam Round 2 Survey – Report Summary document" "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-01-06. Retrieved 2010-01-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ Young Lives "Young Lives: India Round 2 Survey – Report Summary document" "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-01-07. Retrieved 2010-01-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ Young Lives "Young Lives: Ethiopia Round 2 Survey – Report Summary" "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-01-06. Retrieved 2010-01-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ a b c Sen A (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books.
  23. ^ Denuelin S (2009). An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach. Sterling, VA: Earthscan.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h Save the Children (2008). The Child Development Index: Holding governments to account for children’s wellbeing. Save the Children. London, UK.
  25. ^ a b c d Shah A (2010). Poverty Facts and Stats. Global Issues <>.
  26. ^ Walker, Duncan (6 March 2013). "The children going hungry in America". BBC News. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Corcoran M (2001). Mobility, Persistence, and the Consequences of Poverty for Children: Child and Adult Outcomes. Understanding Poverty. New York, USA.
  28. ^ Monea J, Thomas A (June 2011). "Unintended pregnancy and taxpayer spending". Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. 43 (2): 88–93. doi:10.1363/4308811. PMID 21651707.
  29. ^ Millar J and Ridge T (2001). Families, Poverty, Work and Care: A review of literature on lone parents and low-income couple families. DWP Research Report No.153. <> Archived February 24, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  30. ^ a b c d Harper C and Jones N (2009). Raising the Game: mainstreaming children's rights. Overseas Development Institute.
  31. ^ Strerry, Robert M (2000-08-18). "Facing Child Poverty". New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  32. ^ Dahl, G. B.; Lochner, L. (2012). "The Impact of Family Income on Child Achievement: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit". American Economic Review. 102 (5): 1927–1956. CiteSeerX doi:10.1257/aer.102.5.1927.
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  36. ^ University of Illinois at Chicago (October 21, 2013). "Growing up poor, stressed impacts brain function as adult". ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  37. ^ Kim, P.; G. W. Evans; M. Angstadt; S. S. Ho; C. S. Sripada; J. E. Swain; I. Liberzon; K. L. Phan (Oct 21, 2013). "Effects of childhood poverty and chronic stress on emotion regulatory brain function in adulthood". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110 (46): 18442–18447. Bibcode:2013PNAS..11018442K. doi:10.1073/pnas.1308240110. PMC 3831978. PMID 24145409.
  38. ^ Duncan GJ and Brooks-Gunn J (1997). Consequences of growing up poor. Russel Sage Foundation.
  39. ^ Shannahan, Michael (2000). "Pathways to adulthood in changing societies: Variability and mechanisms in life course perspective". Annual Review of Sociology. 26: 667–92. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.667.
  40. ^ Mayer, SE (1997). What Money Can't Buy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard. ISBN 9780674587342.
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  42. ^ United Nations Treaty Collection. Convention on the Rights of the Child Archived February 11, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 21 May 2009.
  43. ^ UNICEF(2009) "The State Of The World’s Children"
  44. ^ a b Harper, Caroline and Jones, Nicola (2009) Raising the Game: mainstreaming children's rights Archived July 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Overseas Development Institute
  45. ^ International Workshop on Education and Poverty Eradication Kampala (retrieved 5/1/2010)
  46. ^ "The Straight Facts on Women in Poverty".
  47. ^ Chris Gosier "To Improve Schools, Fight Poverty, Education Expert Says "

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit