Wednesday, 13 March 2013

How should we measure child poverty?

This ProgBlog article written by Robbie Lawrence, Wikichild Coordinator, is part of the Wikiprogress Post-2015 series.

“Children living in poverty experience deprivation of the material, spiritual, and emotional resources needed to survive, develop and thrive, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential or participate as full and equal members of society” (UNICEF, 2005)

As many of you will know, we are currently running an online consultation* entitled Reducing poverty is achievable: Finding those who are hidden by inequalities” on the Wikiprogress platform. The comments we have had up to this point have been interesting and diverse, ranging from practical suggestions for tackling inequalities in the new Post 2015 framework to personal reflections on how the problem affects the lives of everyday people around the world. This article will first assess the dangers inequalities pose to children and then provide an analysis of current methods of measuring child poverty referencing UNICEF’s ‘Child Poverty and InequalityNew Perspectives’ report, published in 2012.

In late January 2013, at the Third High Level Meeting on advancing a Post 2015 Development Agenda, Prof Gita Sen stipulated that the forum should give special attention to the most vulnerable people, in particular children, youth and adolescents. Save the Children’s report ‘Born Equal: How reducing inequality could give our children a better future’ shows that children bear the brunt of inequality, demonstrating that in some cases children born into the richest households have access to 35 times the resources of the poorest.

Children as a group experience the detriments of poverty differently from adults. While an adult may suffer poverty over a certain period, falling into poverty during childhood can alter a person’s life indefinitely – ‘rarely does a child get a second chance at an education or a healthy start in life.’ (New Perspectives, page 1) EFA’s Global Monitoring Report stresses that early childhood is the 'critical period' in which the foundations for success in education and beyond should be put in place. Even short periods of malnutrition threaten a child’s ability to grow physically and intellectually, impacting their long-term development.

It is important to emphasize that while on a micro level, inequality impedes the right of every child to have an equal chance to survive and thrive, widening disparities in income have been shown to compromise a country's economic growth, damage well-being outcomes and threaten poverty reduction. Child poverty endangers not only the individual, but it is likely to spread to future generations, entrenching and perpetuating inequality in society (New Perspectives, page 1).

Despite the considerable progress of the Millennium Development Goals, there remain major questions over the current framework’s ability to reach those who most need help. In the opening chapter of ‘New Perspectives’, Alberto Minujin discusses why child poverty should be measured separately from adult poverty.  He argues that the standardized monetary approach to identifying and gauging poverty should be replaced by multidisciplinary methods to provide a more accurate picture of the specific detriments that face disadvantaged children.

A strong example of why the monetary approach is limited can be seen in the widespread malnutrition currently affecting Indian children. While India has experienced exponential growth over the last decade, there has been little progress made in improving nutrition. Stunting rates have remained high and almost half of children under five are malnourished, a statistic that the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decried as a “national shame.” (EFA, 43)

Minujin focuses the bulk of his chapter on identifying new and progressive methods of defining and measuring child destitution, from the Bristol deprivation model which not only aims to quantify the extent of child poverty but also the depth of child poverty to the Young Lives project which seeks to understand its causes and consequences. It is his opinion that by combing different methods, policy makers and organisations will be able to apply a multifocal approach to tackling inequalities. Arguably, only by shifting attention to those who have not benefited from the MDG program will its aims be fully achieved. As one contributor in our online discussion stated,

Let us please keep in mind those that are so easily falling through the cracks…the main thing we can do in a next round of goals is to concentrate on the most vulnerable.’

The Wikiprogress online consultation closes this  Friday 15 March. You can post a comment in a few clicks by going to the “Contribute!” section of the online consultation page. Make sure your voice is heard. 

Wikichild Coordinator 

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