Child poverty is a dire reality for millions of children around the world and it is estimated that 385 million children live in extreme poverty (World Vision, n.d.). The main causes of child destitution remain the lack of affordable housing, low-wage jobs, and lack of access to basic necessities, such as water, food, and healthcare. Consequently, these children face a range of negative consequences, including poorer physical and mental health outcomes, lower educational achievement, and limited opportunities for future success. Addressing root causes and supporting children can help alleviate poverty and improve child well-being.
Definition of child poverty
Poverty is a complex issue that stems from various factors such as unemployment, low wages, lack of affordable housing, and discrimination. Unfortunately, children are disproportionately affected by impoverishment, with around one in four children living in destitution in developed countries, and up to 90% in some developing countries (World Vision, n.d.). This means that they may not have access to adequate nutrition, healthcare, and other services and equipment that are essential for their development. From an economic perspective, poverty can be defined in two ways:
- Relative poverty is when a person’s income and resources are not enough to meet the average standard of living in their society. This means that someone may be considered underprivileged in one country, but not in another, depending on the average standard of living. It is often used to measure poverty in developed countries.
- Absolute poverty is when a person’s income and resources are not enough to meet their basic needs. This includes necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare. Absolute poverty is often used to measure impoverishment in developing countries. It is a more severe form as it means that people are unable to meet their basic needs for survival.
Both types of poverty have severe consequences for individuals and communities, including poor health, limited educational opportunities, and a lack of social mobility. It is crucial to address poverty in all its forms to ensure that families have access to the resources they need to live a decent life (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, n.d.). Studies have shown that children living in deprivation are 60% more likely to suffer from malnutrition and have poorer health outcomes than children from more affluent backgrounds (World Vision, n.d.).
While poverty has been an issue prevalent throughout world history, it is seeing a rise in certain parts of the world. Child poverty in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has risen by 19% due to the conflict in Ukraine that started in early 2022. (UNICEF, 2022). The region, which was already dealing with high levels of deprivation, has seen an increase in the number of underprivileged children due to the war and economic turmoil.
UNICEF’s “Situation Analysis of Children Rights in Europe and Central Asia” report also states that child poverty in the region has risen faster than in any other part of the world. This is particularly concerning as it means that more children in the region are facing serious issues, such as limited access to education, food, and healthcare (UNICEF, 2022).
Understanding the root causes and consequences of poverty
According to the Borgen Project, one of the main causes of child poverty in wealthy nations is the lack of affordable housing. Many families struggle to find affordable housing, which can lead to overcrowding and unstable living conditions. This can cause financial stress, health issues, and academic challenges for children. When families are unable to find stable housing, it can also make it difficult for parents to find and maintain a job, which can lead to long-term poverty (Watson H, 2013).
Another major cause of child poverty is low-wage jobs. Many parents are unable to find jobs that pay a living wage, which means that they are unable to provide for their families. This can lead to children not having access to basic needs such as food, healthcare, and education.
Low wages or unemployment for parents can make it hard to pay for quality child care, which can in turn hinder children’s development. This draws attention to the fact that poverty arises not from any kind of personal failure but as a consequence of a systemic issue (Watson H, 2013).
Children living in poor nations face similar challenges. One of the main issues is the lack of access to basic necessities such as clean water, food, and healthcare. In many of these countries, infrastructure is underdeveloped, and resources are scarce. This means that many children do not have access to water to drink. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 300 million people do not have access to clean water and enough food. According to the World Food Program, one in nine people in the world goes to bed hungry each night (ReliefWeb, 2020).
The limited availability of educational opportunities is another factor that impacts children in underdeveloped nations. In poverty-stricken areas, schools are either unavailable or of poor quality. As a consequence, children don’t have the opportunity to learn in order to improve their future prospects. Many families are unable to afford the cost of education, which can keep children out of school and trapped in poverty. For instance, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 61% of children of primary school age are enrolled in school (ReliefWeb, 2020).
It’s crucial to remember that children in poor nations are particularly vulnerable and need special attention, as they are more likely to suffer from extreme poverty, hunger, and lack of access to basic needs and services. They need comprehensive solutions that address the root causes of poverty and not just its symptoms.
Ending child poverty
Ending child poverty is a complex and multifaceted challenge, but there are several key practices and ideas that have been shown to be effective. For example, low-income families in the USA have been struggling financially because of little to no increase in wages and inflation.
Raising the minimum wage can help families and children get out of poverty. When families have more money, they can provide more stable housing and transportation, which can help reduce family strain. More money in the family can also help children do better in school. As a result, even a small increase in income can make a big difference (James H. Duffee et al, 2016).
Improving healthcare access for low-income children is an important factor in ending child poverty. Lack of medical care can worsen health issues and hinder children’s potential. Funding programs that meet children’s physical and mental health needs can promote learning and lead to better outcomes. Prioritizing medical coverage for all children, regardless of income, can set them up for success (James H. Duffee et al, 2016). Ensuring that children are healthy and able to learn, can lead to better educational outcomes, employment opportunities, and overall well-being.
Ending war can also play a huge role in poverty alleviation, as poverty and war often go hand in hand. By ending conflicts, not only can resources be redirected toward public services and poverty reduction, but vulnerable communities also face less risk.
A prime example of this correlation can be seen in Syria, where the poverty rate surged from 12% in 2007 to a staggering 83% in 2019 due to the ongoing crisis. On the other hand, in Nepal, the conclusion of a decade-long civil war in 2006 led to a significant boost in the financial system. By promoting peace, not only can economic growth be fostered, but it can also lead to a better quality of life (Concern Worldwide, 2022).
Community and government action for families in poverty
One of the most effective ways that the community and government can help poor children is by implementing family-friendly policies. These policies can include paid parental leave, flexible working hours, and affordable childcare. For instance, in Canada, the government offers a year of paid parental leave, and parents can divide the time between them. This ensures that children have a stable home environment and parents can afford to take care of them. According to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, this policy has helped to reduce child poverty by 10% (UN, 2021).
Another way to help poor children is by providing access to education and training opportunities. Education is a crucial factor in breaking free from poverty, but unfortunately, many poor children don’t have access to it. Governments can help to ensure that all children have access to education by providing free or low-cost schooling, and by investing in programs that help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed in school.
For example, in the United States, a program called “Head Start” provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. This program has helped to improve school readiness and has been proven to reduce poverty among children. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children who participated in “Head Start” were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to live in destitution as adults (UN, 2021).
Communities can also play an important role in aiding children in need. Building social networks through community-based organizations, such as parenting groups, mentoring programs, and youth clubs, helps provide support to impoverished families. These organizations also provide a sense of belonging, support, and encouragement to both parents and children. Additionally, they create opportunities for children to take part in extracurricular activities, which can boost their self-esteem, improve their social skills and instill a sense of purpose (UNICEF, 2018).
Written by Lidija Misic
Proofread internally by Aditi Partha
Last updated on January 28, 2023
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