Children Bearing Brunt of Stalled Progress on Extreme Poverty Reduction
An estimated 333 million children globally – or 1 in 6 – live in extreme poverty, according to new UNICEF-World Bank analysis released today. Global Trends in Child Monetary Poverty According to International Poverty Lines – which for the first time looks at trends in extreme child poverty – finds that, while the number of children living on less than US$2.15 a day decreased from 383 million to 333 million (or 13%) between 2013 and 2022, the economic impact of COVID-19 led to three lost years of progress, or 30 million fewer children than projected in the absence of COVID-19-related disruptions.
The analysis – released ahead of High-level Week of the United Nations General Assembly (18 – 22 September), when global leaders will, among other things, meet to discuss the mid-point of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – warns that, at current rates of reduction, the SDG goal of ending extreme child poverty by 2030 will not be met.
“Seven years ago, the world made a promise to end extreme child poverty by 2030. We have made progress, showing that with the right investments and will, there is a way to lift millions of children out of what is often a vicious cycle of poverty,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “But compounding crises, from the impacts of COVID-19, conflict, climate change and economic shocks, have stalled progress, and left millions of children in extreme poverty. We cannot fail these children now. Ending child poverty is a policy choice. Efforts must be redoubled to ensure that all children have access to essential services, including education, nutrition, health care and social protection, while addressing the root causes of extreme poverty.”
According to the report, Sub-Saharan Africa carries the highest burden of children – 40% – living in extreme poverty, and accounts for the largest share increase in the last decade, jumping from 54.8% in 2013 to 71.1% in 2022. Rapid population growth, limited social protection measures, and challenging global trends including COVID-19, conflict, and climate-related disasters, have resulted in the steep increase. Meanwhile, all other regions in the world have seen a steady decline in extreme poverty rates, with the exception of the Middle East and North Africa.
Globally, children comprise more than 50% of the extreme poor, despite making up only a third of the global population. Children are more than twice as likely as adults – 15.8% versus 6.6% – to live in extremely poor households, lacking the food, sanitation, shelter, health care, and education they need to survive and thrive.
“A world where 333 million children live in extreme poverty – deprived not only of basic needs but also dignity, opportunity or hope – is simply intolerable,” said World Bank Global Director for Poverty and Equity Luis-Felipe Lopez-Calva. “It is more critical than ever that all children have a clear pathway out of poverty – through equitable access to quality education, nutrition, health, and social protection, as well as safety and security. This report should be a stark reminder that we have no time to lose in the fight against poverty and inequality, and that children must be foremost in our efforts.”
The most vulnerable children – such as those living in rural settings and children living in households where the head has little or no education – are significantly more affected by extreme poverty. According to the report, an estimated 1 in 3 children in countries affected by conflict and fragility live in extremely poor households, compared to 1 in 10 in non-fragile states.
To end extreme poverty and offset the pandemic backslide, UNICEF and the World Bank are calling on governments and partners to:
- Ensure a continued focus on children living in extreme poverty in lower middle- and low-income countries and fragile contexts.
- Prioritize agendas aimed at tackling child poverty, including expanding social protection coverage for children to reach those living in extremely poor households.
- Design public policy portfolios to reach large households, and those with young children and in rural areas. Investing in early childhood has proven one of the most effective ways to break intergenerational persistence of poverty, bringing positive returns to individuals, families and societies.
- Increase access to universal child benefits as a proven effective measure in reducing child poverty.
- Design inclusive social protection programmes, taking into account disability and gender-specific needs.