385 million children living in extreme poverty worldwide

5 Oct 16

The world’s youngest children suffer the most from the impact of extreme poverty, a joint report from UNICEF and the World Bank has found.

The report, published on Monday, found that children are more than twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty. It also revealed that almost 385 million children were living in households that survived on $1.90 or less per person every day in 2013.

Children are disproportionately affected by poverty, the report said, and made up around one third of the population studied, but half of the extremely poor.

And the youngest children are the most at risk. More than one fifth of children under the age of five in the developing world live in extremely poor households.

“Children are not only more likely to be living in poverty; the effects of poverty are most damaging to children,” explained UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.

“They are the worst off – and the youngest children are the worst off of all, because the deprivations they suffer affect the development of their bodies and their minds.”

Poor nutrition in childhood often leads to stunting – a condition that stymies growth and impairs cognitive development. Those affected face lifelong consequences, including frequent illness, poor performance in school, and limited life chances.

Figures published yesterday in a series of research papers in the Lancet medical journal found that stunting is likely to hold back a quarter of a billion children worldwide, and 43% of the world’s under fives.

The papers noted that stunting not only harms the individual, but also their societies as a whole. Failing to enable children to fulfil their potential has economic costs, it said, which could be equal to twice as much as some countries’ spending on healthcare in GDP.

In Ghana, for example, it is estimated child hunger costs $2.6bn – or 6.4% of GDP – every year, due to increased healthcare and education costs, as well as low workforce productivity.

Across sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, the UNICEF-World Bank report found that nearly half of all children are living in extreme poverty. South Asia has the second highest share of the world’s extremely poor children.

Children in rural areas are three times more likely to live in extreme poverty than those in urban areas, while nations affected by conflict, instability and badly managed economies have a higher number of extremely poor children.

In Yemen, a civil war and brutal Saudi-led intervention, which has blocked ports and other supply routes for most civilians has sparked fears of famine, with children the biggest concern.

And even at higher wealth thresholds, poverty affects children disproportionately, the report noted. About 45% of children are living in households on less than $3.10 per person per day, compared with nearly 27% of adults.

While poverty has been falling over the past few decades, Ana Revenga, senior director of poverty and equity at the World Bank, highlighted that the data suggests substantial investment will be needed if the world is to meet the sustainable development goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

“The sheer number of children in extreme poverty points to a real need to invest specifically in the early years – in services such as pre-natal care for pregnant mothers, early childhood development programmes, quality schooling, clean water, good sanitation and universal healthcare,” she said.

“Improving these services and ensuring that today’s children can access quality job opportunities when the time comes, is the only way to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty that is so widespread today.”

Did you enjoy this article?

Related articles

Have your say


CIPFA latest

Most popular

Related jobs

Most commented

Events & webinars