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Analysis: 1 in 6 children lives in extreme poverty

  • Published at 07:55 pm October 20th, 2020
Africa Children Poverty Congo
File photo: Displaced Children from the Bafuliru community pose for a photograph in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp of Bijombo, South Kivu Province on October 9, 2020 AFP

The analysis also notes that more than 70% of children in extreme poverty live in a household where the head of the house works in agriculture

An estimated 1 in 6 children – or 356 million globally – lived in extreme poverty before the pandemic, and this is set to worsen significantly, according to a new World Bank Group-Unicef analysis released on Tuesday.

Global Estimate of Children in Monetary Poverty: An Update notes that sub-Saharan Africa – with limited social safety nets – accounts for two-thirds of children living in households that struggle to survive on an average of $1.90 a day or less per person – the international measure for extreme poverty. South Asia accounts for nearly a fifth of these children.

The analysis shows that the number of children living in extreme poverty decreased moderately by 29 million between 2013 and 2017. However, Unicef and the World Bank Group warn that any progress made in recent years is worryingly slow-paced, unequally distributed, and at risk due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“One in 6 children living in extreme poverty is 1 in 6 children struggling to survive,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, Unicef Director of Programs.

“These numbers alone should shock anyone. And the scale and depth of what we know about the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic are only set to make matters far worse. Governments urgently need a children’s recovery plan to prevent countless more children and their families from reaching levels of poverty unseen for many, many years.”

Although children make up a third of the global population, around half of the extreme poor are children. Children are more than twice as likely to be extremely poor as adults (17.5 percent of children vs 7.9 percent of adults).

The youngest children are the worst off -- nearly 20% of all children below the age of 5 in the developing world live in extremely poor households.

“The fact that one in six children were living in extreme poverty and that 50% of the global extreme poor were children even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic is of grave concern to us all,” said Carolina Sánchez-Páramo, Global Director of Poverty and Equity for the World Bank.

Extreme poverty among children has not fallen as much as it has for adults; a larger share of the global poor were children in 2017, compared with that in 2013.

All regions of the world experienced varying levels of decline in extreme poverty among children, apart from Sub-Saharan Africa, which saw a 64 million increase in the absolute number of children struggling to survive on $1.90 a day, from 170 million in 2013 to 234 million in 2017.

Child poverty is more prevalent in fragile and conflict-affected countries, where more than 40% of children live in extremely poor households, compared to nearly 15 percent of children in other countries, the analysis says.

The analysis also notes that more than 70% of children in extreme poverty live in a household where the head of the house works in agriculture.

The ongoing Covid-19 crisis will continue to disproportionately impact children, women and girls, threatening to reverse hard-won gains towards gender equality.

Social protection program

Social protection measures have a crucial role to play to mitigate coping mechanisms by the poor and vulnerable in both the immediate Covid-19 response as well as the longer-term recovery.

The World Bank and Unicef data suggests that most countries have responded to the crisis by expanding social protection programs, particularly cash transfers.

Cash transfers provide a platform for longer-term investments in human capital, particularly when combined with other child development measures and coupled with high-quality social service provision, cash transfers have been shown to address both monetary and multidimensional poverty and improve children’s health, nutrition, cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes.

However, many of the responses are short-term and not adequate to respond to the size and expected long-term nature of the recovery.

It is more important than ever for governments to scale up and adjust their social protection systems and programs to prepare for future shocks.

This includes innovations for financial sustainability, strengthening legal and institutional frameworks, protecting human capital, expanding child and family benefits for the long term as well as investing in family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave and quality child care for all.

The World Bank and Unicef work together supporting governments in measuring, analyzing and responding to child poverty, including through strengthening social protection across a range of contexts, including fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Unicef has been working with governments and partners to measure, analyze and respond to child poverty including building and strengthening social protection systems across all contexts with a combination technical advisory and implementation support.

In response to Covid-19, Unicef is supporting governments in social protection in 115 countries reaching over 40 million households.

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