Two reports released this month put forward evidence as to why it makes sense to invest in children, not only because reducing child deprivation is a moral obligation for all countries, but because such a strategy can have long term, social and economic benefits.
The child population of a country, are its future and whether they develop into productive, contributing members of society can have a profound influence on, among others, factors of social cohesion, economic growth, a country’s welfare burden, their capacity to reap gains from a demographic dividend and their human capital. Both reports agree that failure to address issues which impact on child well-being, including poverty and inequality, can result in failure to break cycles of intergenerational poverty.
As stated in UNICEF’s report ‘Child poverty and inequality: New perspectives’, children experience poverty differently to adults in terms of causes and the long term effects that even short periods of deprivation can have on them. While an adult may experience poverty for a period, the impacts on a child of disruption to education, poor nutrition and limited access to health services caused by poverty can do permanent damage as ‘rarely does a child get a second chance at education or a healthy start in life’ (UNICEF, 2012). Alternatively, good quality infant and child nutrition leads to approximately 2-3% growth annually in developing country economic wealth and addressing malnutrition in the early years of life can increase lifetime earnings by 20% (ODI, Save the Children, UNICEF, 2012).
The good news, as reported by the ODI, Save the Children and UNICEF in ‘Progress in Child Well-Being: Building on what works’, is that significant progress has been achieved in the last two decades in the areas of health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and child protection. Rates of child marriage and child labour reduced in many countries, levels of child stunting have dropped in developing countries, more children have and continue to be registered at birth, lower levels of HIV transmission to children are reported, more children are enrolled in primary school and under five child mortality has declined.
So what is the bad news? As a whole the world is not on track to meet most of the child-related MDGs. Approximately 50% of children and youth are below the $2 a day international poverty line (UNICEF, 2012), 7.6 million children under five died in 2010, progress on lowering malnutrition has been slow (ODI, Save the Children, UNICEF, 2012), children continue to be disproportionately affected by disasters (see Children and Sustainable Development) and roughly 2.5 billion people are without adequate sanitation (ODI, Save the Children, UNICEF, 2012) resulting in approximately 1.8 million children dying every year from diarrhoea and other diseases (see Freshwater).
What was that about good news? As shown by Progress in Child Well-Being: Building on what works, development assistance and investing in children does work and as documented by ‘Child Poverty and Inequality: New Perspectives’, measurement strategies, policy and interventions that recognise the differences between child and adult poverty and which address its multidimensionality are more likely to be successful in improving child well-being and advancing child rights.
UNICEF, 2012, Child Poverty and Inequality: New Perspectives, Isablel Ortiz, Louise Moreira Daniels, Solrun Engilbertsdottir (eds), UNICEF, New York, Available at: http://www.wikiprogress.org/index.php/Child_poverty_and_inequality:_New_perspectives
Overseas Development Institute, 2012, Progress in Child well-being: Building on what works, commissioned by Save the Children and UNICEF, Save the Children, London, Available at: http://www.savethechildren.org.au/images/content/resources/Progress_in_Child_Well-being_pages_low_res_16-4-12.pdf