Poverty and Children

Poverty can be described as "the state of one who has insufficient resources." UNICEF has repeatedly argued that poverty is one of the greatest obstacles of the survival and development of children globally. A definition has been agreed by 117 countries of "absolute and overall poverty."

Absolute poverty is "a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also access to social services. A child living in absolute poverty suffers from two or more of these basic human needs. Overall poverty includes anlack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality form illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion."

Within the developing world, over one billion children - more than half the child population in developing countries - suffer from severe deprivation. Meanwhile, over one third of children in developing countries are living in absolute poverty. Rates are reported to be highest in Sub-Saharan Africa at 65 percent, followed by South Asia at 59 percent. Figures are lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean at 17 percent. In East Asia and the Pacific the poverty rate stands at 7 percent. Research also shows that that rural children experience a much higher level of deprivation than those living in urban areas.

The measurement of child poverty is difficult to encapsulate due to differing factors affecting the variables involved. One indicator often used in surveys is the Gross National Product (GNP) of a country, which reflects economic activity. This is a crude measurement of poverty as it measures social situation and living conditions as a whole but there are large disparities within and between countries. Measurements do not take into account, for example, the income, expenditure and consumption needs of children; the sharing of income among family members or the availability of infrastructure and services such as health and education.

Severe or extreme poverty can cause children permanent damage, both physically and mentally, in the short and long term. Damaged to a child's health and mortality are direct consequences of appalling living conditions. Many children will have severely impaired developmental problems and will find it difficult to escape from a lifetime of poverty. A lack of essential needs may stunt and distort their development. This in turn may destroy opportunities of fulfillment as they grow; including roles they are expected to play within family, community and society. Fundamentally poverty denies children of their human rights and can lead to a cycle of deprivation.

Children are particularly affected by poor sanitation as facilities are often designed for adults. Severe water deprivation is an issue of both quality and quantity while unsafe water sources, such as in lakes or ponds, may be contaminated, resulting in the most dangerous of childhood illnesses which include diarrhea and malnutrition. The quantity of water is directly linked to the distance needed to travel. Living conditions are also a factor in a child's life with overcrowded shelters facilitating the transmission of disease, increasing stress, mental health problems and could result in accidents or injuries. The stability of such shelters may not protect dwellers against the elements and their families could also experience a lack of food. In the continuum of poverty, one extreme would be a lack of necessities to survive, while at the other end of the spectrum there is an absence of material comforts.

Poverty is experienced differently across the developed countries. Within American society, evidence suggests that economic inequality has grown over time. Researchers suggest this applies to both within and between rich and poor, education, ethnicity, family make-up and original birth places. Poor children tend to live in socially dangerous environments that generate multiple threats to their safety and development. Poverty can adversely affect a child's cognitive, language, social and academic development.

The meaning of poverty for children is complex. Factors which have an impact on poverty among children in Western countries include family income and public assistance from the government. For the poorest children living in America, who are the most vulnerable in society, research indicates that there is an issue of generational inequalities and governmental investments in favor of the elderly over children.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Children and Poverty: Why Their Experience of Their Lives Matter for Policy
McDonald, Catherine.
Australian Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 44, No. 1, Autumn 2009
Low-Wage Worker Characteristics: Implications for Children in Poverty
Christopher, Jan E.
Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2012
The Implications of Poverty on Children's Readiness to Learn
Hilferty, Fiona; Redmond, Gerry; Katz, Ilan.
Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 35, No. 4, December 2010
Resilience and Vulnerability: Adaptation in the Context of Childhood Adversities
Suniya S. Luthar.
Cambridge University Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Poverty and Early Childhood Adjustment"
The Effects of Poverty on Children's Socioemotional Development: An Ecological Systems Analysis
Eamon, Mary Keegan.
Social Work, Vol. 46, No. 3, July 2001
Improving the Education of Children Living in Poverty
Murnane, Richard J.
The Future of Children, Vol. 17, No. 2, Fall 2007
Special Education: Examining the Impact of Poverty on the Quality of Life of Families of Children with Disabilities
Enwefa, Regina L.; Enwefa, Stephen C.; Jennings, Robert.
Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Fall 2006
The Bidirectional Effects of Early Poverty on Children's Reading and Home Environment Scores: Associations and Ethnic Differences
Lee, Kyunghee.
Social Work Research, Vol. 33, No. 2, June 2009
Work-Family Challenges for Low-Income Parents and Their Children
Ann C. Crouter; Alan Booth.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Poverty and Schooling in the U.S.: Contexts and Consequences
Sue Books.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "The Schooling of Poor Children"
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