Region: Poverty Continues to Hit Children, Youth

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, September 3, 2010 | Go to article overview

Region: Poverty Continues to Hit Children, Youth


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


A joint study by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), published in late June in Santiago, Chile, revealed that nearly 63% of the children in the region suffer some type of poverty, with poverty understood to be a relation between deprivations that undermine the full exercise of children's rights and the income level of their families. The two UN agencies' report came at the same time as others released by national, multinational, and private agencies and an investigation presented in Geneva by a third UN agency, the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The first two reflect how, year after year, the gap has been widening between the richest and poorest in South American's economic powerhouse (Brazil) and provide dramatic statistics regarding infant mortality in the South American city with the lowest inequality levels (Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital).

The ILO study shows that, when today's poor children become young adults and join the labor force, they will suffer the highest unemployment levels.

Although unfortunately the studies were released separately, they together paint a powerful picture of the critical social reality in a region in which children and youth--the generations to which societies entrust the future--are the principal victims of unequal wealth distribution.

The ECLAC-UNICEF study covers 2008-2009 and unambiguously affirms, that poverty continues to be the greatest challenge for Latin American countries. If income of the household--that is, the place where children, adults, and elderly live together--is taken into account in the measurements, in 2008, 33% of the population were poor and nearly 13% lived in households with insufficient income to satisfy nutritional needs.

These figures, the report said, translate into 180 million poor and 71 million indigent people. In addition, the inequalities in income distribution, which, say the UN agencies, "is the most regressive in the world," have remained steady in the last 20 years.

Latin America, champion of inequality

On June 22, in Costa Rica, UNDP assistant secretary-general Heraldo Munoz confirmed that reality. "If we compare our region with other regions on the planet, we see that we are the champions of inequality: of the 15 countries with the largest social gap, 10 are Latin American," he said.

Regarding solely children and adolescents, the statistics paint a frightening panorama. In 2007, 17.9% (some 32 million children and adolescents) were living in extreme poverty and seriously affected by one or more severe deprivations: precarious housing, serious global or chronic malnutrition (or both), and lack of access to potable water, sanitation services, electricity, education, and communications and the media. Just a year later, the percentage of that group that suffered moderate or severe deprivations had risen to 29.2%, and their families lacked sufficient income to satisfy their basic needs.

In addition, 15.8% suffer moderate or severe deprivations even though their families have enough income to potentially avoid such deprivations. And 17.8% of the children do not suffer deprivations that constitute a violation of their rights but nonetheless live in households with insufficient income.

In total, 62.7% of Latin American children are affected by one form of poverty or another. The investigation reached the conclusion that some 113 million children live at a level of social exclusion that undermines their well-being, and, either potentially or effectively, their fundamental rights go unfulfilled, "meaning that, in adulthood, the precariousness of their well-being is reproduced, affecting, therefore, future generations."

Establishing the basis for a novel concept--already hinted at but never fleshed out in its true dimension--Maria Nieves Rico and Ernesto Espindola, the two UN experts responsible for the report "La pobreza infantil: un desafio prioritario" (Child poverty: a priority challenge), say that measuring poverty, much more than a simple problem of numbers, implies considering children poor when the violation of at least one of their human, economic, social, and cultural rights is confirmed. …

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