The legacy of child poverty can last a lifetime.

Investing in children and families is an investment in the future.

By Constance Ndeleko

Child poverty is defined as a lack of rights and access to fundamental social services such as health, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, education, WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), and child protection, among other things. The most recent child is observed via a non-monochromatic lens.

In recent years, the Eastern and Southern Africa region has experienced a historic demographic change, with the region’s 21 countries’ child population expected to expand by more than half, from 260 million in 2020 to nearly 400 million in 2050.

17.5% of children are more than twice as likely to be extremely poor as adults. The youngest children below the age of 5 years are the worst off, living in developing countries.

Around two out of every three children are affected by multi-dimensional poverty.

Poverty in childhood can have long-term implications, with the poorest children being less likely to receive medical treatment or complete their schooling, as well as being more likely to suffer from malnutrition or emotional and physical abuse.

Children who do not attain their full potential are unable to fully contribute to social, political, and economic development, and children who grow up in poverty are more likely to remain poor as adults, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

Every child has a right to a standard living that ensures their full development.

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON D.C., 20 October 2020 – 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 today.

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.

While there has been significant progress in recent years in reducing global poverty, hundreds of millions of vulnerable children remain impoverished.

The African continent is where children account for the majority and growing proportion of the population. Despite strong economic progress in some African countries, as well as considerable development and humanitarian successes, a shocking proportion of African children remain subject to abject poverty.

Children who grow up impoverished often lack the food, sanitation, shelter, health care and education they need to survive and thrive. Across the world, about 1 billion children are multidimensional poor, meaning they lack necessities as basic as nutrition or clean water.

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 concerningly slow-paced, unequally distributed, and at risk due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19, 16 of the poorest governments in sub-Saharan Africa were spending more on servicing debt than on all social sectors combined. The difference was three-fold in places like Chad and The Gambia, and as high as 11-fold in South Sudan. And despite some help through the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), around US$2.5 billion continues to flow to creditors beyond Africa’s borders each month instead of into the futures of children.

Despite efforts to reduce poverty in the Kingdom of Eswatini, it remains an occurring deprivation that disproportionately affects children.

Children who grow up in poverty, regardless of where they live, have worse living conditions, develop less skills for the workforce, and earn lower salaries as adults.

Africa's children are paying for COVID-19 with their futures: Smart debt relief is a must.

Dakar and Nairobi – While the global spotlight remains firmly fixed on the battle against COVID-19 in wealthy countries, the life and death challenges faced by populations in developing nations, especially children, have steadily worsened over the past 12 months, largely in darkness and with only tokenistic support from global institutions.

Every government’s longterm goal is to invest in children in order to avoid, manage, and eliminate poverty, which threatens both their wellbeing and the economic potential of their countries.

Poverty among children is not unavoidable nor immune to efforts to relieve it. Most countries have previously proved that it can be reduced, if not eliminated, with continued attention and action.

150 Million additional children plunged into poverty due to COVID-19, UNICEF and Save the Children say.

Poverty in childhood can have longterm implications, with the poorest children being less likely to receive medical treatment or complete their schooling, as well as being more likely to suffer from malnutrition or emotional and physical abuse.

“1 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.”

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

The ongoing COVID19 crisis will continue to disproportionately affect children, women, and girls, jeopardizing hard won gender equality advances. In both the immediate COVID19 response and the longer term recovery, social protection measures play a critical role in mitigating coping mechanisms by the poor and disadvantaged.

Even before the pandemic, 66 per cent of Sierra Leone’s children were living in poverty. Now, with millions of families’ finances even more precarious, children are at an even greater risk of violence, abuse and neglect.

Children who do not reach their full potential cannot contribute fully to social, political and economic growth, and those who grow up in poverty are more likely to be poor when they are older, perpetuating a cycle of poverty

Africa’s top priority is to invest in children’s health, education, and protection systems in order to realize the full potential of these demographic shifts.

It is also in every government’s long-term interest to invest in children to prevent, manage and overcome the poverty that threatens their well-being as well as the economic potential of their countries.

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