This blog asks which organisations are central to assessing child poverty. UNICEF has attempted to summarise the roles and influence of major bodies involved in research, analysis and publication of data relevant to child poverty. The research demonstrates that collaborative work can form the most effective basis of campaigns to raise the political profile of child poverty. Here are half a dozen important stakeholders.
1: A national office for statistics. This is usually a civil service style department which is administered and funded under a government umbrella. These departments are officially authorised to conduct research, collate data and results, carry out discrete analysis, publish findings and make evidence-based recommendations. If their research programme and findings concern the overarching field of poverty, then it may be possible to extrapolate discrete data which particularly concerns child poverty. An office for national statistics is very likely to oversee and implement a regular national census as well as surveys relating to household income and expenditure. Data generated by these activities is vital to shed light on issues relating to child poverty and should help to inform strategic planning to tackle it.
2: A government finance ministry. This is a likely source of information and data on poverty in general across a country. Official recognition, endorsement and ongoing support of such a ministry is vital for the timely funding, launch and ultimate effectiveness of a rolling campaign against child poverty.
3: UNICEF. Over the past twenty years the role of UNICEF has been instrumental in raising awareness and promoting the importance of child poverty on the global stage. One reason that child poverty is reducing on a global scale is because of the coordinated work undertaken by UNICEF. It has led negotiations with various stakeholders on a country by country basis, organised international efforts and initiatives, promoted research, data collection and analysis, fostered official discussions, helped to formulate appropriate policies, and worked behind the scenes to bring about programmes to reduce child poverty.
UNICEF has worked alongside governments and organisations in dozens of low income countries to ensure that reports and studies exploring child poverty have been undertaken, together with specific assessments, for example investigations examining conditions in urban slums or the impacts made by an individual grant from the government. UNICEF has access to an increasingly vast data bank which is important for informing planning. Much of this data is regularly updated, which enables trends to be traced and the impact of a policy or campaign to be effectively measured.
4: The World Bank. This international organisation has for many years promoted and supported poverty analysis in lower and middle income nations. It produces and updates the monetary measure of poverty, currently $2.15 per person per day. However, it has expressly documented why a multi-dimensional approach to measuring poverty is vital. The World Bank also provides a wealth of resources informing the measurement of global poverty, and in addition it publishes reports on poverty on a country by country basis.
Partly prompted by the Global Commission on Poverty, the World Bank has also adopted a policy to research and publish poverty profiles specifically for children (under 18 years of age). Its research and analysis of multidimensional poverty has highlighted the benefits of defining poverty from a lifestyle viewpoint, taking into consideration factors like rights, access to a reliable electricity supply, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, education programmes, medical care as well as safe housing.
5: Charities, non-government organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations and research bureaux. Each of these groups of stakeholders plays a significant role in raising the profile of child poverty, and helping to keep it on the political agenda, both nationally and worldwide. They help to raise awareness and secure finance. This can be done by collecting data, undertaking research and investigations, conducting appropriate interviews with people concerned and other stakeholders, as well as by actively campaigning, fundraising and implementing new measures. They also work with media and journalists. Such contributions can help to influence and shape government policy.
Small charities can also play important roles in measuring child poverty. For example, alongside their other campaigns, they can raise awareness and help to shape discussions by regularly airing issues on an active blog, or through their online presence.
In a country which undertakes no official research into child poverty these bodies can give a lead in formulating estimates, from which it is possible to raise the profile of child poverty in terms of public awareness. Such publicity and promotion can generate political pressure and help to build momentum which can lead to a review of government policy. Charities such as Save the Children, Oxfam and the remarkable Médecins sans Frontières often catch the headlines for their roles at the forefront of interventionist humanitarian relief. Often this follows in the wake of a specific emergency, whether the result of an environmental event, war, breakdown in law and order, or economic crisis. Data and evidence from their experience on the ground, and campaigns organised as a consequence, can help to inform decision making about, and raise awareness of, child poverty.
6: The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is an outreach network which aims to connect governments and organisations to facilitate mutually beneficial exchanges of experience, knowledge and resources to help improve lifestyles for the global population. Poverty reduction is at the heart of their mission. They operate in 170 countries, fostering development research, planning and initiatives to formulate solutions to political and cultural challenges. While the UNDP promotes sustainable development, climate and emergency resilience, peacebuilding and democratic governance, it also assists in attracting aid.
The UNDP was responsible for constructing the multi-dimensional poverty index. This method of assessing poverty in general and child poverty specifically has helped to rationalise the arbitrary-seeming income-based poverty line. Together with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), the UNDP publishes regular country specific analyses of poverty.
The importance of alliances
The above stakeholders often formally collaborate in their collective missions. Developing such partnerships is central to forming influential and respected alliances which can more readily help to advise and shape political responses to child poverty. While naturally the role and relative importance of these stakeholders varies from country to country, they are nonetheless central to achieving the goal of constructing a national pathway to tackle and eradicate child poverty.
In conclusion, thorough and effective measurement of child poverty leads to its reduction. These stakeholders all contribute to that end.
It is a commonly accepted fact that war and conflict perpetuate the displacement and mass movements of populations subjected to its violence. The term refugee’s first noted use was in 17th century France to refer to the Huguenots – French protestants who fled to surrounding nations when their religious liberty was threatened with violence – and has been an unfortunate recurrent staple in both academic and media discourses ever since[i].
Despite its common usage, many people often use the terms refugee and migrant interchangeably – a mishap heavily utilised in the UK Brexit campaign in 2016. However, the terms denote two different situations, and it is important to distinguish between the two. Migrants are defined as those who choose to leave their homes; refugees, on the other hand, are forced by the threat of persecution or violence.
Poverty has become a well-known, often long-term outcome of forced displacement. Whether this is historical or contemporary, refugees are forced to deal with hardships in both living standards and social exclusion when fleeing conflict. Despite some states having asylum and social policies for refugees, a growing Western shift towards right-wing social views and the adoption of isolationist national policies on migration have had detrimental effects on the living standards and well-being of refugee populations living in new countries in search of greater stability and welfare. Those most susceptible to these issues are children.
The Issues at a Glance
Poverty is multifaceted by nature and there is a myriad of issues that stem from its base that refugees face, particularly when living in unstable, makeshift refugee camps. Securing necessities such as medicine, fuel, shelter, food, and water is a constant struggle for displaced families, especially given that many of those fleeing conflicts lack the economic funds required to obtain these resources. The issue is only worsened when families are split up or children are orphaned by war – there are over 170,000 unaccompanied and forcibly displaced children worldwide today[ii]. The lack of these necessities further impacts the cognitive and psychological welfare of children which can, and does, stunt both physical and cognitive growth in the long term.
Whilst these are major issues that must be addressed if we are to combat the levels of poverty refugees face, they are (despite their monetary derivative) somewhat controllable amenities. By this, I do not mean that they are readily available – as they are not – and to say so would disregard the hardships refugees face trying to acquire them and their importance for survival. Rather, they are things that can be sought with the right resources. However, as stated, most refugees do not possess the economic or social capital for this. Whilst some may work jobs (which are often poor-paying, insecure 0-hour contracts), many instead become heavily reliant on foreign humanitarian aid – especially those in camps.
Humanitarian organisations such as The Red Cross and Lighthouse Relief, particularly UNICEF for children, send aid packages to refugees worldwide to help address some of the issues they face, primarily in the form of food packages and hygiene toiletries. Children are often the ones to receive a large proportion of this aid which allows them to secure the basic necessities for survival – although this is not always the case.
But, whilst humanitarian aid may offer some relief in certain instances, it struggles to meet the needs of all those who require it and is not an answer for all the issues that poverty presents. Children living in foreign countries often struggle with sociability because of language barriers and a difference in cultural hegemony. In other words, they lack the social skills required to socialise in that specific region as it is often different from what they are used to at home. This in turn means they lack the necessary social interactions required for social growth which only serves to isolate them from the wider society in which they now reside. This can lead to the creation of isolationist diasporic refugee communities that live on the outskirts of their new host country, limiting a child’s capacity for growth.
Palestinian displacement in Lebanon
The civil unrest in Israel-Palestine has left the eastern coastal plain of the Middle East in conflict since the state’s partition in 1948. It has created displacement of refugees on a massively unprecedented scale. A large proportion of those forced from their homes in the West Bank have fled to neighbouring Lebanon. An estimated 300,000 Palestinian refugees are currently living in Lebanon[iii]. Of these 300,000, approximately 93% are living in poverty[iv]. The situation is the same for those in Jordan and Syria.
The Israeli state ‘opposes their return to Israel as it would alter the country’s Jewish character whilst the Lebanese state opposes their implantation in Lebanon’[v] as their practice of largely Sunni Islam is perceived to threaten the already fragile coalition of constituencies governing the country. The result leaves Palestinian refugees in a limbo state, living in camps, struggling to obtain necessities, and existing as outsiders not only to Palestine but to their new hosts too. Living in such ostracising conditions can and does have negative effects on the levels of well-being and esteem experienced by those on the outskirts of society.
When it comes to basic needs, food insecurity is strife amongst the children of these populations with 23.8% of those under 5 being malnourished leading to long-term growth stunting[vi] and a further 25% prevalence of anaemia. Disease is a common issue produced mainly by inadequate housing. Cholera and cardiovascular disease are highly prevalent among Palestinian children because of indoor pollutants, infestation, mould, and dampness in the home – issues impossible to deal with when you are not formally recognised by the state in which you reside.
Many children do not have any form of formal education – an issue largely exacerbated by lacking electricity. In the Lebanon camps, households are only supplied with 2 hours of government-regulated electricity a day meaning children have little else to do but hang around in the alleys between buildings in camps to play and wander, exposing them to dangers of abuse, abduction, and trafficking – an issue that particularly affects young girls.
The conditions in which these children live do not serve to better their position in society since leaving the conflict zones of the West Bank and Gaza. They place them at a disadvantage by removing their opportunities for socialisation with wider social actors which only condemns them to live at arm’s length from their native Lebanese peers, whether that be in school or work or play.
Whilst there is still a great deal to be done, multiple agencies are working to improve the position and livelihoods of young Palestinian refugees. Last year, ANERA helped 1,357 Palestinian refugee graduates in Lebanon get jobs in the vocational sector after leaving one of their multiple schools in the region[vii]. The skills they use not only benefit them immediately but also help the wider refugee community in which they live by injecting money into the area to fund development. Furthermore, future generations will benefit from the skills taught to them by employed young adults. Having a job also lessens the reliance on foreign aid and helps to develop an individual’s cultural capital by exposing them to wider social inclusion through work, which can, in turn, reduce the stigmatisation of refugee populations in host nations.
The biggest humanitarian force in the region is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli conflict post-partition, the organisation currently provides education to over 39,000 Palestinian child refugees living in the 12 camps of southern Lebanon – a number which rises to 545,000 students when incorporating those in Jordan, Syria, Turkey and more[viii]. A similar picture is painted about healthcare with 550,000 registered patients each year visiting one of 27 different healthcare clinics in southern Lebanon[ix] helping to combat the issues of disease that too commonly prevent children from living until adulthood. The organisation is currently in the process of reforming its healthcare policy to bring a new holistic family health team approach to better suit the needs of refugee populations.
However, the issue is that the United Nations general assembly has had to continuously renew the UNRWA’s mandate since its establishment in the absence of a solution to the refugee crisis that Palestine’s population has faced for decades now. Whilst it is the case that some have gained valuable skills in education and work, there are still many others who have not and continue to live in poor, unsafe conditions ostracised by wider society. And whilst the work that NGOs do is pivotal to Palestinian society’s survival and upkeep, its efforts are negligible until such a time that a long-lasting peace can be brokered and enforced – something that has had little success thus far.
The Syrian Refugee Crisis
Probably the most well-known example of modern displacement of refugees lies just north of Israel/Palestine. In the 10 years following the start of the Syrian civil conflict in 2011, over half the country’s population have been displaced across 130 countries around the world – 70% of whom are living in poverty producing what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has called ‘the largest refugee crisis in modern times’[x].
In September last year, UNICEF released a report noting that there are currently 5,900,000 Syrian children living as refugees who need support[xi]. Like the Palestinian populations mentioned above, many Syrian refugees reside in large camps riddled with incidents of poverty. Lacking education, work, poor health, and security are just some of the similarities in issues that Syrian refugees face. What tends to go under the radar most often in the discussion of Syrian displacement is the social and psychological influence that life as a refugee has on the children who flee.
Notions of national pride are cracking under the weight of a refugee crisis that is still very much ongoing. This is particularly true for young men and boys living as refugees from Syria, especially as Syrian nationalism is allied strongly with traditional perceptions of masculinity to fight for the ‘fatherland’[xii] – a somewhat colloquial spin on the commonly used phrase ‘motherland.’ Syrian boys have struggled to adjust their ideas of manhood and masculinity when living as a refugee as their function of masculinity has been challenged by western ideals on changing gender norms[xiii] which has caused a rise in anxiety and depression among young male refugees.
Similarly, living as a refugee, especially for long periods, can, and does, influence and form a child’s perception of both themselves and their country. A recent report found that a group of children who have been displaced and are living in makeshift refuges on the outskirts of Idlib in north-western Syria have been struggling to identify with their cultural heritage after 10 years of conflict has thwarted their sense of home[xiv]. Despite the country’s rich heritage, Syrian children today do not see their war-scarred country as holding any future opportunities for them and most would rather move elsewhere in the hopes of better education, well-being and standard of living. The desired location for most is in Europe.
But the past 10 years have seen Syrians in Europe face xenophobia and hate crime at an alarmingly high rate. Largely a result of Western political and media representations, some young Syrians have been victims of crimes by those native to the host society. In August of 2021, Turkish Nationalists gathered near an enclave of Syrian refugees and began to attack their homes and businesses[xv]. In the UK in 2018, a 15-year-old male Syrian student was attacked by his peers after school whilst a young Syrian girl was pushed in front of a train in North London[xvi]. Many incidents go unreported to the police as they feel they either won’t be believed or fear that cultural and language barriers prevent them from seeking help.
Even applying for asylum can be a long and arduous task. For refugees in the UK to gain access to healthcare, housing, and many other necessities for life, they need to have applied for asylum or pre-settled status – a task that can be complex, especially when those applying are young adults and families with children who do not speak English. And whilst you can still reside in the UK whilst the application pends, you are still not formally recognised by the state as having asylum and as such do not reap the benefits of stuff, often leaving families in poor financial and housing situations. However, various institutions can offer support in this process; Migrant Help UK, Refugee Council and Shelter all have services dedicated to the support of refugees applying for asylum.
Once asylum is granted the benefits for refugee populations can be massive, especially as some refugees (particularly those with children as they are considered most vulnerable) are eligible for the resettlement scheme. In 2022 alone, 1054 Syrian refugees were resettled in the UK[xvii], 52% of the total scheme.
Of course, it is not always as simple as this and many Syrian children travelling alone in particular do not have the means or skills to make it to the UK and thus end up in insecure accommodations or camps across Europe. The bulk of these exist in Turkey, an area recently struck by an immense earthquake, producing further issues for survival as a refugee. The most well-known Syrian refugee camp, however, exists in Calais, northern France.
The ‘Calais Jungle’ represents a severe example of what Syrian children face when living in refugee camps both alone and with their families. Hunger is commonplace with each person being given only one meal a day. Any food kept by those in the camp cannot be stored effectively as there is minimal electricity and infrastructure, leaving food and water to be contaminated by the high levels of pathogenic bacteria present causing vomiting and diarrhoea.
Hygiene is poor with 1 toilet per 75 refugees, more than three times the acceptable standard recommended by the UNHCR. Furthermore, since there are no effective means to wash clothes or bedding there are mass infestations of scabies and lice throughout the camp.
These issues are concerning for children’s physical health, but it is again important to look at how this burden has detrimental impacts on mental health and how the perception of oneself may change in light of how others perceive you – a notion particularly prominent in European media. Refugees are continuously labelled as the scapegoat for issues in Europe by Western media outlets; a representation that impacts on the well-being and self-esteem of refugee children by reaffirming them as a cultural other[xviii]; as different.
Living with this feeling of otherness only serves to worsen the issues of ongoing psychological trauma, anxiety and depression – which are all common mental health concerns that refugee children in the Calais jungle (and other camps) live with. For Syrian children, these stem from both the pre-displacement experiences of war and conflict in Syria; and the post-refugee life experiences resulting from the separation of families, difficulties in the asylum-seeking procedures, social exclusion and more[xix] in their new host nation (France in this instance).
As such, the concerns are not simply for the immediate impacts of these psychological issues but also the long-term damage they can do to a child’s ability to grow, communicate, socialise, and develop. Children suffering from psychological trauma are more likely than the local population to struggle with social anxiety, preventing them from engaging properly at school or sports clubs or in other social settings. These issues can manifest in later life with many refugees practising avoidance in social networks so as not to re-trigger the memories of lived trauma from before.
There is, however, much being done to assist and help Syrian refugees and children in the form of foreign aid. The UNHCR poverty alleviation coalition is the largest actor in the sphere of Syrian humanitarianism. There are currently upward of 6.8 million internally displaced Syrians and external refugees registered with the UNHCR for aid in the form of cash, food and cooking appliances, medicine, and more[xx]. For those living as refugees abroad, the organisation has a programme for protection and inclusion solutions focusing on increasing engagement between young Syrians and their peers in foreign host nations. Last year the commission conducted 19,888 social activities and social awareness sessions aimed at raising awareness for the mental health concerns that couple with the physical aspects of poverty and the lived experiences of trauma, engaging 16,000+ people[xxi]. The organisation runs specialised mental health groups led by psychiatrists and psychotherapists that aim at openly discussing issues to combat the stigma associated with mental health among young boys and men.
Sessions on family and community support aim to direct support towards child refugees, supporting local community centres to help with development in child-friendly settings. In addition to this, child protection committees consisting of social workers, teachers and other professionals work with Syrian children to identify potential protection issues and trends in refugee communities to help address problems before they develop by referring them to WHO (World Health Organisation) medical professionals for support with their mental well-being.
It hopes within the next year to increase its output and step up its involvement in this area, which is particularly important when addressing the mental health concerns stemming from social ostracism that many refugees face. But whilst these movements towards incorporating mental health support are pivotal in the fight against poverty, only 25% of those involved in the programmes offered were male – the largest sufferers of depression and anxiety in the population. There needs to be a focus on engaging more men, especially young men and boys who are most susceptible to trauma and PTSD which can have long-lasting consequences.
Various other organisations operate relief programmes contributing infrastructural support as well as food. SIRF (The Syria International NGO Regional Forum) brings together a multitude of agencies dedicated to assisting in efforts to help Syrian people live in light of the civil war. The agencies provide a range of support from medical care (both psychological and physical) to the provision of supplies necessary for survival (such as food and water) and are pivotal in helping to keep Syrian children in insecure accommodations safe in the ongoing refugee crisis across the Middle East and the rest of the world.
So, while there are a lot of issues that refugees face, there is a great deal of support available for them – whether that’s direct from the United Nations or NGOs. But is it enough? Whilst it is definitive that governments and NGOs need to continue to address the physical and monetary issues that refugees face, there also needs to be an acknowledgement of the long-term social and mental impacts that life as a refugee inflicts. The UNHCR’s programmes on well-being dedicated to supporting children and adults in refugee settings with managing their mental health are a great start but there is only minimal engagement by refugee populations in comparison to the millions spread worldwide. There is much more that can be done to engage large diasporic refugee communities, especially men and young boys concerning mental health support, and until such a time that these well-being needs are addressed fully, we are unlikely to see a change in the levels of social ostracism that refugees face in the world today.
[v] Perdigon, S. (2015). ‘For Us It Is Otherwise’ – Three Sketches on Making Poverty Sensible in the Palestinian Refugee Camps on Lebanon. Current Anthropology, 56(S11), pp. S88-S96.
[vi] AbuKishk N, Gilbert H, Seita A, Mukherjee J, Rohloff PJ. (2021) Under-five malnutrition among Palestine refugee children living in camps in Jordan: a mixed-methods study. BMJ Glob Health. Aug;6(8):e005577. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2021-005577. PMID: 34348932; PMCID: PMC8340287.
[viii] UNRWA. (2022). Socio-economic situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon Crisis Monitoring Report – High-Frequency Survey Results – September 2022. Amman: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.
[ix] UNRWA. (2022). Socio-economic situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon Crisis Monitoring Report – High-Frequency Survey Results – September 2022. Amman: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.
A migrant tragedy unfolded in the early hours of the morning. At least 73 people lost their lives in heavy seas off Crotone, a seaside town in Calabria, southern Italy. Of those who drowned, a dozen were children, including a baby just a few months old, and a six-year-old boy. The 20-metre wooden boat which carried them sailed from Izmir, Turkey, had spent four days at sea on route to Italy. This is a favoured destination of traffickers who promise a safe passage to Europe in exchange for people’s life savings.
Why do migrants risk their lives to travel to Europe?
Many migrants are searching for what they hope will be something better, whether employment opportunities, higher living standards, better quality accommodation and access to good medical and educational facilities. Many are fleeing persecution, drought, natural disasters, war zones, and the breakdown of law and order within their societies.
During their journeys they may have spent quite long spells in refugee camps or holding centres. They find themselves a long way from home and they have nothing.
What does research suggest about what awaits those refugees who safely reach their hoped for destinations?
Regrettably, life in their new homelands does not often transpire to be what migrants and refugees were hoping for. Aside from facing ongoing prejudices, refugees also have to cope with challenging language barriers, day to day cultural clashes, and renewed poverty in several ways. For example, many typically end up living on, or below, the poverty line in whichever country they settle. For a family which has lost everything this is a desperately harsh reality. Moreover, many refugees have handed over their life savings to people traffickers who have promised them safe passage overseas.
This means that survivors of the Crotone shipwreck have arrived in Italy poorer than they were before they set out. And now many of them have lost close relatives who were travelling with them. Sergio Di Dato, a project manager from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), highlighted one sixteen year old survivor from Afghanistan who had lost his sister. The boy could not bring himself to contact his parents to break the news.
Why would a brother and sister have fled from Afghanistan?
The country has struggled in the face of long running political upheavals, war and natural disasters. This situation has been compounded by the Taliban who seized back political control in August 2021. They have isolated the country from the international community by implementing a series of legal reforms which have curtailed people’s rights, especially those of women and girls.
What about other factors?
UNHCR estimates that approximately two thirds of Afghanistan’s population are struggling with food shortages, drought, access to medical and nutrition centres, intermittent water supplies and unreliable sanitation. In short, poverty is affecting millions of people.
Moreover, girls are facing educational restrictions at secondary school age which will deny them life enhancing opportunities. This may lead them into early marriage.
Is the cost of living rising as well?
The average income is estimated to be a third lower in early 2023 than it was in 2020. Moreover, higher costs are curtailing millions of people from accessing health services. Some medical facilities are also understaffed and have limited resources.
Are these conditions leading to migration?
In a word, yes. Families and unaccompanied children are leaving the comparative safety of their homes in search of broader freedoms and better opportunities. This leaves them exposed to unscrupulous traffickers and other criminal cartels.
How are NGOs responding?
Some organisations are concentrating on raising awareness. UNHCR is working on the ground in Afghanistan to bring practical relief as well as advocating for the right of all children to enjoy educational services, especially girls of secondary school age. UNICEF is exploring remote options whereby some educational programmes can be presented through television, radio and online.
What did UNICEF achieve in Afghanistan in 2022?
In the first half of 2022, UNICEF oversaw the treatment of 300,000 children (aged 6 months – five years) for acute malnutrition; supplied cash payments to approximately 100,000 families; delivered safe water to 3.5 million people; provided outpatient care to more than 17 million people; and supplied child protection services to 1.7 million children.
Will these initiatives help to reduce migration?
Addressing the causes of poverty will reduce the root factors which lead to migration. Ringfencing people’s rights and establishing access to reliable services are central to this work.
Politicians and representatives from NGOs across Europe continue to wrangle about the complexities of migration, its causes and ways to address it. They hold one another responsible for compounding the situation. Meanwhile charities and international stakeholders are continuing to deliver life enhancing services on the ground. By raising awareness about ongoing programmes, we can continue to help to improve conditions for millions of people. This in turn will help to ease factors which lead the most desperate to risk their lives by leaving their homes and undertaking dangerous journeys which too often end in tragedy.
How many people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean?
What will help to save lives in the Mediterranean?
A central tenet of the IOM’s mission statement is to promote ‘humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all’. In the aftermath of this disastrous migrant story, it seems like a reasonable goal to stop people trafficking and help prevent further tragedy. This sentiment was echoed by UN Secretary General, António Guterres, who addressed the Human Rights Council on 27th February. He appealed to countries to do whatever they can to help migrants and refugees. He also called for safer routes and improved rescue resources. By implementing measures along these lines and through greater political cooperation, it should be possible to end migrant tragedies once and for all.
The header image is the Gateway to Lampedusa, a memorial by the Italian artist Mimmo Paladino.
Around the world, robust and engaging education programmes enshrined within a comprehensive and evolving policy such as the UK’s National Curriculum should go a long way to providing opportunities for every child, anywhere. They ought to give everyone, irrespective of their financial circumstances, the chance to flourish by nurturing aspirations for the future. Hence a high-quality, all-embracing education is vitally important to fight child poverty. UNESCO expresses it remarkably succinctly, education transforms lives. With one in nine of the world’s 15–24-year-olds illiterate, it remains crucial to continue cherishing and addressing this issue. Education is, after all, a fundamental right for everyone.
How can education open up opportunities for young people?
Education helps to develop children’s awareness of the world around them. It affords context and knowledge. This is naturally empowering, but crucially children’s personal skills are also fostered by their educational pathways. Among the development of interpersonal, cognitive and emotional skills, it is the ability to think logically, sensitively and critically which is at the heart of many school courses. In theory children who benefit from a good education should acquire life skills which will be attractive to future employers, opening up opportunities and inspiring ambitions.
Education is a way out of poverty
Because education is broadening and nurtures aspirations, it is a very good way to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty. This means that by increasing literacy and science skills whole communities should benefit economically as their potential workforce becomes more skilled.
What about girls?
Gender discrimination means that millions of girls around the globe are deprived of formal education. UNESCO estimates that over 118 million girls are presently not attending school. Figures like this are sometimes cited to emphasise that girls are unfairly discriminated against within educational systems. Yet UNESCO confirms that over 125 million boys do not currently attend school either. However, huge numbers like these can appear to be misleading. For instance, of all adults who cannot read or write it is women who comprise almost two-thirds. Why is this the case?
Long term school attendance
Put simply, around the world, more girls than boys drop out of school. Amy Kerr’s blog for Poverty Child explains the destructive impact of bullying, violence, child marriage, as well as gender biases ingrained within schools and local cultures. While certainly not immune, boys are less vulnerable to these social and political issues.
What strategies are being implemented to reverse gender discrimination in education?
UNESCO has devised two policies to reverse discrimination in education, Strategy for gender equality in and through education (2019-2025) and the Gender Equality Action Plan. The implementation of these policies focuses on system-wide transformations aimed at benefitting all children in three areas: first, researching, recording and publicising detailed data, which should inform better understanding and targeted practice. Second, better legal and policy frameworks, which should enhance girls’ rights. Third, more effective teaching and learning practices, which should empower all children. Of course, addressing cultural expectations and prejudices against girls remains a politically challenging and complex matter. However, where gender inequality can be successfully addressed in schools, over time there is likely to be a cultural shift within community expectations.
The link between poverty and classroom performance
Why does poverty affect classroom performance? The answer seems to lie in the challenges arising for young people from their personal circumstances. Children who live in low-income households tend to experience greater domestic disruption than other children. Greater stress. Changes in child care arrangements and demands on stretched parents mean that children can be forced to forge their own way, to become more independent earlier than others. However, their independence – in whatever form it takes – does not naturally rationalise the importance of education in their minds.
Moreover, it is likely that children from lower socio-economic backgrounds experience less academic stimulus at home, for example, less encouragement to read, or less parental emphasis placed on routines like homework. Consequently, some children do not have consistently positive exposure to cultural expectations or the skills necessary to consolidate and improve their academic performance. Nor do they necessarily feel as much incentive or encouragement to pursue academic interests as some of their more affluent peers.
How can poverty disadvantage children in the classroom?
While these are important issues, it is not just the quality of food on the table, or the stability of a caring family which influence children’s academic outlook and commitment. Vocabulary enrichment is perhaps the single most important issue for primary school children. It is a fact that children from more challenging socio-economic backgrounds tend to encounter and use fewer words in their everyday speech. At school this can become disincentivising and impact on self-esteem. As a result, children may not want to read or wholeheartedly join in with class activities if they do not understand as many of the terms in use around them as some of their peers.
Falling behind and absenteeism
If children self-consciously feel that they may look foolish in front of others, for example, because of their literacy, then they are more likely to avoid participating academically, whether that simply means not putting up their hand to ask for help, or just not concentrating. This is the top of the slippery slope to falling behind. It all too readily develops into motivational and subsequent behavioural issues. Finally, children may resort to absenteeism, with all of its detrimental impact on their personal, social and educational wellbeing.
How do authorities and schools inclusively promote the value of education?
There are several practical enrichment steps which schools aim to implement. For instance, alongside cultural or sporting activities, they offer before school, lunch time or after school clubs with an academic focus. Children are naturally inquisitive. Some merely need an appealing insight or academic hook to spark an initial interest in a new or mainstream curriculum area. School resources such as a library, however simple, can be made as accessible as possible in terms of presentation and appeal. Classrooms can become bright, inspiring places and children can be at the centre of designing them to be that way.
The importance of reading
Above all else reading any material in any form can be presented in a positive light. This is vital because illiteracy and poverty are inextricably linked. Children need to understand that illiteracy will blunt their potential as they grow up, they need to realise that academic interests are not for a talented elite. Fostering and incentivising a positive work ethic goes a long way to ensuring academic progress. And that helps to open up those future opportunities which may prove to be life changing.
Tackling motivation and offering support in schools
There is a proven link between socio-economic status and self-esteem. If children appear to be unmotivated it is likely to be because they assume that school is not for them, that it is for high achievers. For instance, for all those children in the UK’s education system whose first language is not English, progress and success at school is always going to seem daunting. At home those children are unlikely to speak or read much English, simply because their parents do not.
While home background and environment are factors that contribute considerably to motivational outlook and performance at school, it is also the quality of teaching and the daily experience at school which matter. Inspirational teachers and effective schools do not just catch the attention of children from affluent backgrounds. In addition, frequent encouragement and support can make a huge difference to children’s motivation. Many teachers go way beyond the call of duty in looking after their classes, and consequently many children benefit in terms of their overall educational experience. Moreover, individually targeted learning support programmes, as well as one to one extra help, can be transformative.
Measuring child poverty may not seem like a top priority when there remains so much practical, long-term work to be done to tackle extreme poverty. Nor, at first glance, does form filling, data collection and number processing seem like a particularly beneficial or effective way to reduce child poverty. Yet such research and analysis, undertaken in an effective manner, will produce data which can lead to evidence backed policy formulation and programme advancement. These in turn can open up opportunities to raise awareness of child poverty and ultimately generate financial backing to address the situation long term. In short, without officially endorsed measurement of domestic circumstances across a country, it is unlikely that policy makers and associated stakeholders will feel empowered to devise programmes to bring about widespread, meaningful change.
What does measurement of child poverty provide?
Assessing the various forms of child poverty within a country can produce vital data and information about its nature and the scale of the challenges to be tackled. Measurements can inform how child poverty integrates with the concept of poverty in general, how widespread it is, how it is affected by topography, and how it affects cultural communities in differing ways. One example is the way illness and disease impact on children who live in poverty. UNICEF aims to measure and generate data relating to a number of factors which affect children who live in poverty. This will not only help to raise the profile of the issue, but also shed light on the best ways to establish a national pathway to tackle child poverty. As a consequence, this will continue to focus policy and development planning, enabling resources and initiatives to be better targeted.
The causal angle
Generated data which relates to child poverty should not simply shed light on the actual circumstances across a country. It should also offer insight into the causes. These may already be well known, but often causes are simply assumed. Whatever reasons are suggested or highlighted by assessment and analysis will enable better informed planning and policy implementation. So, data is multi-dimensional, not simply descriptive.
Observing trends and gaining insight
Measuring child poverty also enables experts and politicians to understand whether trends are changing and, if so, to what extent they are increasing or decreasing. This means that retrospective research is vital to determine just how beneficial recent initiatives and ongoing programmes are and are likely to be in the immediate future. An interesting example could aim to review the impact of a recent or ongoing campaign. For instance, measuring child poverty over time means that it will be possible to conclude whether financial input to programmes which focus on education, healthcare and sanitation are benefitting the poorest in society, or whether in fact they are helping children who are already proportionally better off.
One holistic benefit of policy review
If households are targeted by research and subsequent legislation, does that mean that street children and homeless families would not benefit? For instance, if cash transfers were considered to be a potential short-term solution, how might they best be implemented when many people, and children in particular, do not have bank accounts? Measuring child poverty trends and collecting accurate data from a completely inclusive cross section of society will ensure that policies and proposed programmes are validated and potentially enhanced.
Reckoning the scale and contexts of child poverty through comparison-led research
The results of measuring child poverty also empower data analysts and politicians to compare regional circumstances as well as make international comparisons. Basically, analysis informs on the scale of child poverty. Within the overarching context of poverty, it also validates comparisons with adult poverty and other discrete groups within communities and across society as a whole. For instance, gender-based comparisons should prove insightful, establishing evidence for girls’ personal circumstances, for example, in educational contexts or in domestic roles.
It is a sad fact that child poverty is often higher than any other group. Research and measurement also confirm where child poverty is at its highest, geographically speaking, and it may be possible to pinpoint whether there are certain groups of young people who are more vulnerable to child poverty and its effects. It can be used to predict trends and allow preventative measures to be addressed.
Is data just retrospectively useful?
Simulations are an important, forward looking statistical tool. They help to estimate the potential benefit of a proposed policy. Analysis of likely costs and overall benefits are also key drivers of legislative proposals, shedding light on the potential impact of a campaign on specific communities. Such insight would certainly inform the way in which a new policy could be best designed and rolled out. It would also prompt policy makers to constantly bear in mind the target audience.
How beneficial could data simulations prove to be?
Data simulations could lead to a potentially broad-based policy shift in government circles. Ultimately, they could be instrumental in the formulation and implementation of a fundamental social protection programme. This would likely be introduced in a series of stages. Data projections and subsequent collation would ensure that essential evidence-based feedback could be readily generated and circulated to all stakeholders. This would help to shape the future direction of further planning. Data can be released through the media to society as a whole, opening up an opportunity for a more inclusive endorsement of whatever progress is being made.
The overall benefit
If people across society can see benefits and improvements in the lives of others, then it is likely that they will continue to support further proposals for child poverty reduction. Society as a whole needs to be brought on board and ultimately made a stakeholder in proceedings. The media can play a pivotal role in presenting updates and explaining the ongoing impact. So long as people believe that tackling child poverty will be beneficial to society in general, then political momentum will prompt further collaboration and progress.
How many people are now displaced in Turkey and Syria?
Following the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria on February 6th, the vice-president of Turkey, Fuat Oktay, has estimated that more than a million people are presently living in official encampments. This is in a context of bitterly cold nights where temperatures have been registering lows of -9 ̊C. However, in Syria the numbers are even higher. Sivanka Dhanapala, a Syrian official speaking on behalf of the UN commissioner for refugees informed a press conference that well over 5 million people were now homeless. The UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) estimates that 17 million people are living within the overall affected area.
What has been the UK’s response to the natural disaster so far?
International humanitarian aid continues to arrive in Syria and Turkey. In the glare of harrowing media coverage, governments and charitable organisations have scrambled to be proactive in promoting, assisting and delivering relief work, and so made their own headlines. In the UK, members of the general public have generously donated over £65 million to help those who have lost so much. The UK government initially pledged a package of financial assistance of several million pounds, and aid including a 77 strong search and rescue team, life-saving equipment, medical experts, hygiene kits, tents, blankets, and loan of a Hercules transport plane. It has also made a commitment to coordinate further help with Turkey’s government, the UN working on the ground in Syria, and other international partners.
How have women and children in northwest Syria been affected?
Commentators and observers on the ground are calling the quakes a double tragedy. There were already over four million people living in northwest Syria who have lost their homes because of the ongoing war and civil unrest. Now many of these people have lost their temporary accommodation as well. The majority are children and women who have lost fathers, brothers and husbands due to the long running conflict. ActionAid has reported the comments of an emergency responder, Sawser Talostan, ‘Children do not even know the meaning of the word home because they were born in, or live in a tent, and some of them do not even know the meaning of the word school.’ Following the earthquakes there has been a complete breakdown in public services and support. Now others have lost their livelihoods and are facing more displacement. Several hours after the initial quake on February 6th people started to return to their former homes to salvage some possessions, just as the biggest quake struck (measuring 7.5 on the Richter Scale), only exacerbating the plight of many.
Why should people prioritise the safety of children and women in particular?
In the immediate, chaotic aftermath of a natural disaster, governments and non-government organisations (NGOs) prioritise rescue efforts, alongside establishing shelter, food supplies, a clean water supply, sanitation service, and further aid in the form of clothing and more general support. Keeping transport links and border crossings open is a further vital part of this process. Regrettably, in times of crises, when law and order break down, and when people lose their homes, possessions and loved ones, it is women and children who are especially vulnerable.
In such difficult conditions it is easy to overlook the fact that women and children can be left in extremely exposed circumstances. For example, without the safety and privacy afforded by their own homes and families, they may face sexual exploitation. For those who find themselves bereaved, isolated and dispossessed, the threat of coercion into prostitution can become a new and dreadful reality. Moreover, desperate young people can be lured into child labour, or slavery, by unscrupulous cartels which will simply ignore children’s rights for the sake of profit.
Such shady operatives can justify their actions as charitable, claiming that they are aiding the most destitute people in their societies by employing young people and paying them something. Yet these cartels are hardly better than criminals who work beyond the law, and ruthlessly exploit young people. UNICEF estimates that globally there are already 160 million children subjected to child labour. The natural disaster in the Middle East may tragically mean that this figure increases.
What about desperate families?
When families have run out of any means to support themselves and have lost everything, sometimes they are forced to contemplate resorting to child marriage. What if they simply cannot support their eldest daughter anymore? They could reason that she would be better off married, even as a child bride. Moreover, they may be promised a small financial incentive.
What about domestic violence?
Statistically speaking, strained personal relationships are another tragic outcome of natural disasters. The stresses and anxieties arising from such sudden, bewildering loss mean that children and women are more likely to be exposed to the threat of violence and abuse, often from within their own family. In many societies women bear the lion’s share of domestic responsibilities. This role, in times of crisis, becomes even more challenging. Many older children find themselves becoming child carers for their younger siblings, and wherever a mother is injured, incapacitated, or lost, they can suddenly become primary carers.
What is the impact on mental wellbeing?
These lifechanging events can take a tremendous toll on people’s mental health. It is not surprising that anyone caught up in a situation like this natural disaster is particularly prone to stress, anxiety, depression, prolonged grief and panic attacks. It is all too easy to feel abject pessimism about the future. And this is also the very moment when medical services are totally overwhelmed and disrupted.
Should more women be prominent in rolling out relief programmes?
Sabine Adi Aad, the director of ActionAid’s Arab region, argues that one way to prioritise the needs and safety of children and women caught up in the aftermath of a natural disaster is to empower more women to direct the roll out and distribution of subsequent aid programmes. Women who are instrumental in delivering support and relief will, by definition, have instinctive insight into problems and dangers facing women and children struggling in crisis hit areas. Another organisation that encapsulates this concept is Forgotten Women. They only allow women to deliver aid on the front line. This ensures that vulnerable women around the world cannot fall victim to sex for aid exploitation. By centralising the roles of women within emergency programmes, those coping with crises will immediately have advocates who can readily empathise with them. It’s an appealing proposal, and one which could benefit countless women and children in the future.
Fact one: the number of multi-dimensionally poor children
UNICEF unequivocally finds that on a global scale approximately a billion children are ‘multi-dimensionally poor’. What precisely does that mean? Essentially, these children have limited or no access to fundamental services, rights and provisions. For example, they are unable to enjoy a formal education programme, or rely on decent sanitation services and a clean drinking water supply. Moreover, they lack healthy, nutritional diets which makes huge impacts on their physical and mental health. They also live in unsafe or insecure housing, or no housing at all. Moreover, they are unlikely to enjoy officially recognised human rights.
Fact two: the number of children in extreme poverty
UNICEF estimates that 365 million children are living in ‘extreme poverty’. This means that they are in families or groups which survive on less income than the official extreme poverty line which, at present, is an all too arbitrary straight line drawn across global demographic income at just $2.15 per person a day. The consequences of the arising deprivation are stark: these children are twice as likely to die in childhood when compared to those from better off backgrounds. Save the Children explains that almost six million children die every year from illness and diseases which are curable. On average that’s over 16,000 a day, or about one every five seconds. The vast majority of these impoverished children live among very poor communities and conditions. Yet it is within the power of the world’s developed countries to prevent most of those deaths.
This begs the question, why don’t they do so? Financial constraints play a significant part, but insular, domestic policies and legislation programmes also tend to dominate the political landscape, that is, until priorities shift. Unfortunately, presenting evidence that the eradication of child poverty would be beneficial for everybody is more of a challenge than it sounds. Traditionally charities, pressure groups and religious organisations have focussed on presenting child poverty as part and parcel of all poverty, rather than as a discrete and vital component part. By contrast, the United Nations’ first sustainable development goal is to end poverty ‘in all its forms’. By this subtle change of emphasis, it is proving possible to endorse and incentivise action in a more focussed way. The shift from a traditional approach to global poverty is placing children’s wellbeing at the centre of direct intervention, a desperately needed improvement as facts three to six show.
Fact three: why are more children living in extreme poverty than adults?
There are twice as many children living in extreme poverty than there are adults. The arithmetic is compelling: about a third of the world’s population is under the age of eighteen, but about half of all people living in extreme poverty are children. This of course makes perfect sense if you remember that very poor families tend to be large. And the older children tend to find themselves helping their parents with informal childcare and taking on work, which is very low paid and sometimes dangerous.
Save the children have recently drawn attention to what it describes as the global malnutrition crisis. The situation in Somalia and Sudan, in particular, has reached a devastating point. The charity cites another halting statistic, that approximately sixty million children under the age of five are suffering from ‘wasting’. Technically that means that they have an unhealthily low weight to height ratio. Save the Children estimate that in Somalia alone there are about 513,000 young children who face the risk of death because of their undernourishment.
The key point is that malnutrition is almost always reversible, so long as there is appropriate funding from national and international communities. So, this is really a question of priorities. Where on the ever-shifting scale of political agendas does child malnutrition sit?
Fact six: the biggest danger, child poverty is self-perpetuating
Children who live in extreme poverty have few prospects for self-improvement. We are not talking about improving things so that more children survive to adulthood. Political transformation in approach to child poverty is urgently needed to give the poorest children opportunities to thrive and not simply survive. Expectations need to be challenged, otherwise there will be an uptick in survival rates, but poverty will inevitably continue to stifle ambitions and prospects. Moreover, lack of access to opportunities, both educational and vocational, is double edged. First, it is a major contributing factor to child poverty in the first place. If children cannot enjoy a decent education they are likely to continue to live in poverty. Many will feel unmotivated to attempt to self-improve and change their circumstances because of the conditions in which they live.
Of course, an equally significant consequence is that child poverty is also, therefore, a barrier to preventing shared prosperity in the future. Child poverty becomes self-perpetuating leading to more of the same. If a family living in poverty has more children, then they inevitably become poorer still because the overall household income is divided by a higher number and that income needs to stretch further. Therefore, this means that children living in poverty are in several ways a consequence of poverty and, simultaneously, a further cause of it. It also means that poor families living just above the poverty line are destined to fall beneath it if they have more children. This is a difficult reality to come to terms with. Moreover, child poverty also squanders potential, which disadvantages everybody in all echelons of society.
What can be done to improve the situation?
It’s all too easy to ask why we have not addressed and resolved the world’s most pressing issues, such as child poverty. The answer is not straightforward. A statistical approach such as Katharina Fenz adopts suggests that it ought to be possible to target resources at particular countries and communities to reduce child poverty by a significant amount. The eight countries with the highest rates of child poverty, amounting to over 50% of the global tally, are (in descending order): Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Yemen, and Afghanistan.
If initiatives to tackle child poverty were especially targeted at these eight countries it would be feasible to reckon that over fifty percent of the global problem were being addressed in a coordinated manner. That does not mean that other countries where child poverty is prevalent would just be ignored. But concentrating for a short period on these named countries would ensure that the headline figures would drop quickly. With the momentum generated and knowledge gained it should be possible to roll out similar programmes in an efficient way elsewhere. Africa and India provide an opportunity to collaborate and focus attention onto particularly challenging areas. This is where data and its analysis can be exploited to galvanise awareness and to progress priorities and initiatives.
The two-generation approach to solving child poverty
Addressing both parental and child status when tackling child poverty is becoming a progressive methodology. For example, parents can be offered training and opportunities to study. The economic benefit is tangible whenever improved job prospects are a natural outcome of such intervention. Higher pay naturally means the chance to improve family living standards. If, on the other hand, low-income parents are provided with access to professional childcare services then the benefits for the children are also indisputable. For instance, children aged three whose parents work and use childcare services typically have a working vocabulary of 575 words. This compares to children of unemployed parents who did not go into higher education, whose vocabulary is typically only 300 words.
Moreover, parental expectations regarding the general value and utility of education impacts on the expectations of their children. This is a significant insight which underscores the importance of a two-generation approach to tackling causes of child poverty. After all, attendance at school is broadening, and can foster aspirations. If it is motivational then is it potentially transformative.
In conclusion, empowering people, especially children, to lift themselves out of impoverishment is a top priority for addressing the injustice of child poverty. Increasing access to education and training can generate desirable aspirations at a personal level which are central to this strategy. Targeting specific communities and countries remains an important priority, and not just for UNICEF. There is a whole sector of organisations of various sizes and cultural backgrounds that operate in this way which is driving improvement across all poverty metrics.
UNICEF records that globally nearly one in ten children are forced into child labour. It’s an arresting statistic. Moreover, there’s an important caveat: some of those children are subjected to especially dangerous and degrading work, a consequence of child trafficking. Of the 160 million children estimated to be trapped in child labour approximately half undertake work which is harmful for their physical, moral and mental wellbeing. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF estimate that 79 million children aged 5-17 are presently subjected to hazardous work. That amounts to roughly half of all children trapped in child labour, a number not far off the entire population of Germany.
Why are children forced into child labour?
When a family faces financial ruin children are at their most vulnerable. Perhaps a parent or carer has been made redundant or become ill and is consequently unable to earn an income. Such a personal financial crisis, whether temporary or permanent, is shattering for families which just manage to scrape a living from one week to the next on what little money they have coming in. Children are likely to want to help their families, and in some cultures would be expected to do so.
How harsh is child labour?
We are not talking about some informal domestic work, or a school holiday job, which may even facilitate a child’s natural development, or instil some sense of self-esteem in a young person. UNICEF explains that child labour is much more exploitative. It’s bad enough for a child to receive a very low rate of pay. Yet such economic exploitation is only the beginning. Child labour can often mean physical and mental harm, it can lead to slavery and sexual abuse. Examples of hazardous work include handling and applying potentially toxic agrochemical substances, undertaking strenuous tasks such as carrying very heavy loads, and using dangerous tools and machinery. Moreover, these practices can often necessitate working in very high temperatures, which naturally and quickly lead to dehydration, among other health concerns.
What about the plight of migrant and refugee children?
Refugees have, in the vast majority of cases, been forced from their homelands because of natural disasters or political conflicts. If children are migrating on their own, they are especially exposed to risks associated with child labour. Trafficked children face constant threats of violence and are deprived of even the most fundamental human rights. They may be compelled to participate in illegal operations, for example, acting as drug mules or prostitutes, or be usurped into paramilitary groups. Trafficking and child labour sever children from their daily routines, their education, and their healthcare. They steal young people’s aspirations and bulldoze through their personal rights.
There are also unscrupulous businesses which ignore children’s rights for the sake of profit. They may even claim that they are acting in an altruistic fashion, helping to support the poorest people in their societies by being prepared to employ young people and at least pay them something. Beyond these are societal subcultures and criminal elements who operate autonomously beyond the law, and will ruthlessly continue to exploit young people, irrespective of new legislation, ongoing initiatives and research. Sadly, young people who face desperate circumstances can easily become drawn to dishonest profiteers. Unless politicians wholeheartedly invest in rooting out illegal cartels child exploitation is likely to continue. The bottom line is simple enough: until the poorest people are provided with some financial support, some guaranteed legal standing, basic human rights and improved security, illegal practices which exploit children are likely to continue.
What legislative steps can be implemented to stop children being exploited?
The IPO collects data relating to child labour. This research is pivotal in generating reliable evidence which can be used to draw attention to the harsh reality of child labour. The data is publicised, for example, it can be presented to political decision-makers to heighten awareness. Moreover, UNICEF and the IPO are promoting administrative strategies, for instance, one goal is to ensure that children are issued with an official birth certificate. Such legal documentation should confer unambiguous proof that a child is not old enough to work, so long as potential employers are respectful of such protocols. In addition, if it is devised and implemented in a supportive and rigorous manner, appropriate legislation should help to ringfence children’s status and rights. At the heart of this political intervention stands the issue of deprivation: tackling poverty will significantly reduce child labour. Government policies which protect and promote social development programmes in education, healthcare, gender equality and decent employment will contribute a great deal in halting child labour.
What obstacles remain?
There remain serious societal and political headwinds. For one, the challenges to ending child labour are complicated by the global scale. There are also difficulties associated with officially and accurately documenting child labour, and addressing economic circumstances on a nation by nation basis. Yet collaborating with different peoples and managing varying demographics in which cultural values place differing expectations on children is vital to halting child labour. Additionally, there are developmental trends to assess, including the widespread nature and impact of poverty, and the social implications of limited access to education, and future employment opportunities for both the adult population and young people. The ILO and UNICEF cite sub-Saharan Africa as the region in which child labour is at its highest, globally speaking. The international community needs to support countries in this area to bring about lasting change.
What else is UNICEF doing to help eradicate child poverty?
UNICEF and organisations like ILO continue to publicise and lobby. They state that people around the world need to engage energetically and wholeheartedly in confronting the causes of child labour. They must resist settling for second best practices or, worse, the status quo. By envisaging the better world that we would like to see around us, UNICEF believes that we can finally end child labour and fulfil a central target of the United Nations’ 2030 seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, namely 8.7, which urges that we collectively “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”.
This sounds refreshingly ambitious. Yet an overwhelming majority of people around the world would sincerely subscribe to these ethical principles. It is a question of priorities. UNICEF, the IPO and the United Nations are in the vanguard of championing children’s rights. They continue to lead the fight to stamp out the exploitation of children, and they remain determined to enshrine these fundamental tenets in galvanising and shaping collaborative global thinking, planning and effective action.
The far-reaching benefits of a common, multi-dimensional definition of child poverty
The issue of defining child poverty is a surprisingly knotty one. It is a challenge not made easier because the concept of poverty is also an emotive one. Conventionally it has demanded a consideration of financial means, but definitions have only recently begun to look more broadly at available resources, services and freedoms. This is a vital step forwards since poverty is about much more than a lack of income. Definitions need to consider the extent to which people’s basic needs are below their means, whether people have access to a variety of fundamental services, such as rudimentary healthcare and education, and the extent to which they enjoy personal and cultural freedom. Having access to a reliable electricity supply is another fundamental factor.
Future prospects, freedoms and aspirations
Moreover, researchers need to assess employment prospects and whether people have access to meaningful opportunities for work. There is also the question of the level of social protection and support available, and the stability of the local community. However, beyond economic factors, a definition of poverty needs to encompass political circumstances, for example, the extent to which people enjoy social, religious and gender specific freedoms. To what extent do they feel able to speak out for themselves and negotiate with representatives of those in authority? Additionally, what aspirations do people living in poverty hold dear?
The arbitrary nature of a calculated poverty line
Charities and pressure groups still tend to cite a seemingly arbitrary poverty line. This is an estimated economic point below which it is considered impossible to obtain necessities for everyday living. The numbers published, of course, amount to something of a moveable feast. Originally, in the early 1990s a dollar a day became a yardstick by which global poverty could be measured. Subsequent official attempts to update this definition have led to the publication of the latest headline figure of just over two dollars a day. One concern is that definitions like these are based on one currency and therefore the economy of one nation, the relative value of which is constantly fluctuating because of a vastly complex web of domestic and global factors. This makes the processes of formally estimating poverty levels based on the value of the dollar seem less helpful.
Issues arising from a headline figure
Despite some impressive research in the formulation processes, the headline figure unintentionally invites a rather lazy response from people and organisations alike, because by its nature it relies on a very specific figure without conveying any simultaneous insight into personal lifestyles and living conditions. In September 2022 The World Bank revised and republished its monetary quantification of abject poverty. It categorically establishes its ‘new, extreme poverty line’ at $2.15. This crudely means that anyone living on less than this amount of money spends their life in extreme poverty.
The World Bank, however, does acknowledge the importance of a multi-dimensional approach to defining poverty. It devotes a good deal of space and energy into commending an overarching assessment. So, it seems disappointing that the bank insists on headlining with a misleadingly precise-sounding monetary value, simply supplying eighteen links to other pages where important factors and analyses are cited. Many readers would simply not invest the time to look beyond the headline figure. Essentially, defining poverty needs to prioritise and embrace consistent presentation, emphasis and, above all, evidence-based information.
What makes poverty statistics influential?
Suffice to say that whatever poverty line figure is put forwards, the methodology produces a very low income value. However, any headline figure, however eye-catching, masks a far more complex set of circumstances. In dismissing such statistical approaches as highly limiting, Don Mathews has neatly pinpointed one reason that poverty statistics enjoy such influence, that is, to justify governments’ financial planning. A baldly statistical emphasis fails to shed light on specific social complexities that contribute to the notion of living standards.
The need for a holistic approach
So, a more holistic approach to defining poverty, and with it child poverty, is preferable. Increasingly, experts have argued that poverty needs to be viewed through the eyes of the people in question. For example, we should be assessing what their aspirations are, and to what extent they consider that they enjoy personal freedoms and rights. It may be a mistaken approach simply to judge situations through western eyes.
In building a robust, multi-dimensional definition of poverty and child poverty, we need to challenge lazy assumptions and expectations. While this is not an easy prospect it is vital in attaining a meaningful definition and the benefits which can arise from it. Moving away from a reliance on headline statistics and sound bite descriptions also requires a concise and embracing verbal explanation. Another hurdle concerns people’s conceptions of poverty relative to their own circumstances and societies. For instance, a child living in poverty in the UK may still look considerably better off than a child who lives in sub-Saharan Africa, simply because of the level and quality of services available from the state.
Another statistical issue: revising figures promptly
UNICEF presents an unequivocal argument that globally speaking, the majority of people in poverty, are children. Their headline figures are shocking: ‘Across the world, about 1 billion children are multidimensionally poor, meaning they lack necessities as basic as nutrition or clean water.’ UNICEF concludes that although a third of the world’s population is made up of children, they comprise up to half of those trying to live on less than $1.90 a day. Of course, this figure clashes with the latest World Bank revision, and such inconsistencies are naturally unhelpful in defining and then devising strategies to reduce poverty. Imposing monetary benchmarks only shifts people in a narrowly statistical sense, but certainly not in terms of their actual circumstances.
A further numerical inconsistency
UNICEF goes on to deduce that 356 million children are presently living in absolute poverty, another socio-economic overarching term which also clashes with the World Bank’s tag. Addressing poverty inconsistently does not change the fact that these children experience the poorest living standards, develop the fewest skills for later life, and earn the lowest wages when they become adults. Moreover, UNICEF starkly presents the bottom line: these poorest children are twice as likely to die than their better off peers. Future collaborative efforts to reduce child poverty would surely benefit from the common use of universally accepted terminology and methodology.
UNICEF chairs the Global Coalition To End Child Poverty. It too celebrates the fact that over the past thirty years administrative and co-operative strides forward have been taken to address and reduce child poverty. There are encouraging data, leading to the affirming claim that child poverty has been reduced by over fifty percent since 1990. This statistic means that malnutrition has been reduced, safe drinking water has been made available to many more people, education has been expanded, and fundamental healthcare services have been established alongside better sanitation. Because of this life expectancy is improving in diverse communities, and children may even have improved employment opportunities.
While such progress sounds reassuring, it is vital to remember that huge numbers of children remain in multi-dimensional poverty. Huge disparities persist, and naturally these guarantee that hundreds of millions of the poorest children are being left further behind. Political initiatives like UNICEF’s Sustainable Development Goals are bringing governments together on the international stage to address child poverty. The ultimate, and rightly ambitious, aim is to eradicate multi-dimensional child poverty within the next decade, meaning that children will have what they need not only to survive but to fulfil their potential and hopefully thrive. Achieving that efficiently and effectively would be aided by organisations and governments adopting a consistent, embracing overview, which relies less on statistical headlines and uses uniform terms coherently to reinforce descriptions of personal circumstances.
Conversations on war and poverty are widespread and crucial to understanding the connection between violence and the global poor. The link is undeniable, and there are many reasons why it remains and persists to this day – most notably in the developing world. From the current crisis in Ukraine and the mass displacement of refugees into neighbouring Poland to the ongoing civil unrest in Myanmar and the recruitment of child soldiers from poor backgrounds; there is no shortage of examples where war leads to poverty and poverty to war.
What is somewhat under-discussed however, is how the phenomenon disproportionately impacts the lives of children who find themselves caught in the middle of conflicts. In 2005, the United Nations Security Council set out six violations of children’s rights to be monitored during times of warfare. These are the killing and maiming of children; recruitment of child soldiers; sexual violence against children; child abduction; attacks against schools or hospitals and the denial of humanitarian aid to children[i].
However, whether it’s through the absence of education and sanitation affecting their social and cognitive development, issues relating to malnutrition and poor healthcare stunting their growth or the myriad of problems associated with living as a refugee fleeing warzones; war and conflict continue to produce incidences of poverty that have heavy and lasting impacts on the children involved.
Two Schools of Thought
When discussing war and poverty there are often two thought processes. One views poverty as a consequence of war and conflict, and the other views war and conflict as a product of poverty. Both are true to a point, but what needs to be understood is how one will, for the most part, always exist in conjunction with the other – especially in the context of civil wars.
Such a picture has never been truer than when it comes to child poverty. Children living in poverty are often pushed to desperate ends to produce capital when other means fail them, often turning to crime which can, in some instances, result in violence and warfare – especially in areas where gang culture presides. Whilst this may present an extreme example, it is not uncommon – especially in the epicentre of the War on Drugs in South American countries such as Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela where children from poor backgrounds are recruited as drug mules. If the children in these situations manage to escape, they often suffer severely from drug addiction, preventing social reintegration and maintaining their position of poverty.
On the flip side, children living in areas hit by war often find themselves living in abject poverty either as refugees in a strange land or worse still, continuing to live in a war zone with the daily risk of injury or death.
War and Conflict as a Producer of Poverty
War is indisputably a creator and maintainer of global poverty. Generally speaking, war-affected regions have higher levels of poverty. This is because war damages a community’s infrastructure and institutions; causes the destruction of national and personal assets; fragments communities and their communication networks; and causes the debilitation and deaths of a large proportion of the population[ii]. During times of conflict and war, people lose their houses, their land, and their assets usually utilised to produce capital.
What is often overlooked, however, is how the impacts of war often leave lasting legacies on the populations who experience them. Living in the aftermath of war often proves difficult for many people, especially those in hard-hit areas. Whilst on the macro-level, temporary destruction of capital can be circumvented through long-term investment; the micro-level individual, social and psychological effects can be far harder to subvert, especially for the children of war who are displaced, injured, orphaned, or recruited by militia groups who often suffer with their mental health following resolution[iii]. Evidence suggests that the impacts of conflict on education and health at the individual and household level can still be observed decades after conflict resolution[iv].
The risk posed to children by war is in many ways greater than that posed to other members of a community, with one in ten children globally being affected by armed conflict[v] and one in six living in conflict zones[vi]. This is partly because children haven’t fully developed the cognitive agency to understand imminent threats and do not have the resources to remove themselves from them. As such, they often find themselves either caught up in or controlled by war and conflict because they don’t possess the means to escape.
The risk is further increased, in certain instances, when children are targeted by armed groups. When children are targeted or killed it is often done so as a terror tactic to reaffirm brutality and gain notoriety. It shows that a group is willing to engage the most vulnerable in society to confirm its position in a conflict. However, the result of such targeting is not always to kill but rather to abduct and recruit children to fight in wars. Warring factions often kidnap children as they are more easily manipulated and can be indoctrinated to commit crimes without question[vii].
Poverty as a Producer of War and Conflict
Whilst it is obvious that war reproduces existing poverty trends and creates new ones, it is also more than plausible that poverty produces a set of circumstances that exacerbates divides and produces war and conflict itself. This is especially the case for civil war, a phenomenon largely prominent in the developing world. Research suggests that if you reside in a poorer area, you are more likely to be exposed to, and partake in, violence in civil war[viii]. At the state level, poverty compounds vulnerability to an insurgency by lowering the opportunity cost for the mobilisation of violence[ix]. For example, perceived inequality through high levels of unemployment, low levels of education and social development are often prime motivators for violence and a reason to enact a revolt.
When poor groups revolt, they often rely on voluntary recruits at first. But when voluntary recruits dry up, many turn to forced recruitment. Children can be at the centre of this with some rebel groups forcibly recruiting children from poorer backgrounds to fight – a practice that has been particularly utilised heavily in the civil conflicts taking place in Myanmar and Sierra Leone.
Africa has become the epicentre for violent conflict involving child soldiers[x] with 40% of all child soldiers globally active on the continent[xi]. This number is made even greater when the recruitment of children is not just committed by poor militia groups but also by lower-income nation-states.
In 2004 the government forces of Burundi were found to be forcibly abducting and recruiting child soldiers from the country’s poorest regions[xii]. Boys as young as ten were serving in the armed forces and militia whilst girls of a similar age were being sold into sexual slavery. Even when demobilisation schemes were enforced by UNICEF, many children showed signs of trauma with others expressing concerns about the inadequate rehabilitation preparations[xiii]. This resulted in multiple children re-joining armed groups but this time in the form of non-governmental militia factions where they further suffered the impacts of poverty and violence.
The most important thing to note when discussing the link between poverty and war and conflict is the risk of conflict reoccurrence among poor populations. For those living in poverty, there is a greater chance of conflict reoccurrence than that of more economically advanced areas, especially when insurgent civil wars fail to procure the goal that was set to achieve in the first instance. This is especially true when the already low levels of infrastructure in poorer areas are left without investment following times of conflict, only acting to widen the gap between the rich and the poor in societies.
Violating the UN’s Six Violations
Despite the best efforts of the UN and its partner agencies to tackle the issues associated with child poverty and exploitation in times of conflict, there is still a strong relationship between impoverished children and acts of violence. Whether this is the infliction of violence on poor populations by external actors or the taking-up of arms by the global poor in insurgencies to change the status quo, it still remains a fact that poor children pay the price of war and conflict.
[i] UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. (2013). Children and Armed Conflict. New York: United Nations.
[ii] Justino, P. (2012). War and Poverty: IDS Working Paper. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
[iv] Shemyakina, O. (2006). The Effect of Armed Conflict on Accumulation of Schooling: Results from Tajikistan. Berlin. HiCN Working Paper 12, Households in Conflict Network, https://hicn.org/working-papers/
[viii] Mercier, M. et al. (2020). Violence exposure and poverty: Evidence from the Burundi civil war. in Journal of Comparative Economics 48(4). p. 822-840.
[ix] Marks, Z. (2016). Conflict and poverty. GDSRC Professional Development Reading Pack no. 52. Birmingham, UK: University of Birmingham.
[x] Achvarina, V, & Reich, S. (2010). No Place to Hide: Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Child Soldier Recruits. In Gates, S. & Reich, S. (eds) Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.