Poverty & Children
Each country has its own definition of the poverty line, or the minimum annual income necessary for an adequate standard of living. In developed countries such as the United States, this is relatively high. However, for billions of other people around the world, living in poverty means living on an income of approximately one dollar a day. This condition affects not only adults, but the children in their care as well. More than half of the children living in developing countries have a severe deprivation of one basic human need and over one third of the children in these countries are living in conditions of absolute poverty in which basic human needs are not being met, including the need for adequate food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, information, and access to social services (Gordon, Nandy, Pantazis, Pemberton, & Townsend, 2003). The Millennium Development Goals articulated in 2000 by the United Nations address these issues with the hope of severely reducing poverty by the year 2015 (United Nations, 2006). However, although progress is being made toward meeting these goals in many areas, other areas still show little or no progress. Much more work is still needed.
Keywords Economic Development; Globalization; Human Rights Movement; Operational Definition; Poverty Line; Social Justice; Society; Socioeconomic Status (SES)
For most of people living relatively comfortable lives in Western societies, it is difficult to truly grasp the idea of poverty either within their own country or across the globe. Statistics published by the United Nations and other official agencies, for example, can seem remote. It is difficult to imagine that globally nearly every second child—nearly one billion children—lives in poverty.
While it is difficult to imagine the lives of those living in abject poverty, at a multi-day meeting concerning social needs, attendees were given some insight. At lunch time, the leader of the meeting announced to the attendees that rather than having a catered lunch, each person going to be handed an envelope and asked to go out and eat on the local economy using only the money in the envelope. The amounts in the envelopes ranged from $1.00 to funds sufficient enough to enjoy a reasonably priced lunch at a local restaurant. The point of the exercise was clear: To help the group better understand from first-hand experience what it means to survive on a poverty level income. In the end, the attendees were still mere observers rather than true participants: Those who for medical reasons needed to eat at a certain level were excused from participating and virtually everyone had money in their wallets if they did not want to abide by the rules (as more than one person did not). Further, even if the group had been forced to skip one meal to show "solidarity" with the poor, everyone had had breakfast that morning and would go home in the evening to a healthy dinner. Yet, according to the widely reported statistic, 1.1 billion people across the globe live on less than an equivalent of $1.00 per day (Ravallion, 2009).
Despite its flaws, however, the underlying principle for the exercise was solid. Think, for a moment, of the budget on which you currently have to live, then think about what things you would have to give up to live at or below the US poverty level of $11,720.00 for individuals (US Census Bureau, 2012). Then imagine trying to live within the $23,492.00 poverty threshold for a four-person household of two adults and two children (US Census Bureau, 2012). Then imagine being a child living in such a situation, often going to bed hungry, without adequate medical care, and not being able to afford your school supplies. Across the globe, the poverty line is significantly lower. This figure is drastically reduced in many other countries. As mentioned above, globally, the poverty line is typically considered to be approximately $1.00 per person per day. However, this figure varies depending on the country and its level of economic development.
Childhood Poverty Statistics
The statistics of childhood poverty are very sobering. According to Gordon, Nandy, Pantazis, Pemberton, & Townsend (2003), one-third of the children in developing countries live in accommodations with mud floors and in which more than five people share a room. In 2011 according to UNICEF 40 percent of the world’s population did not have access toilet facilities and more than 768 million people have unsafe drinking water; every year almost 2000 children die from health issues linked to unsafe sanitation and water resources. More than thirty million children in developing countries have never received any immunizations against diseases or have recently endured an illness involving diarrhea without benefit of medical device or treatment.
According to Gordon, et al (2003, p.5), the agreed-upon definition of absolute poverty is "a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to social services." In many developing countries, even when sanitation facilities are available, they are often unsuitable for children (e.g., too large, intimidating at night). Given the fact that children are more affected by poor sanitation than are adults through the link to serious childhood illnesses, this is an important factor of childhood poverty that needs to be addressed. Poverty-related issues regarding water would evolve around both the quality of the available water as well as its quantity. When forced to live in overcrowded dwellings, children are more likely to contract diseases (e.g., respiratory infections, measles) and can also experience increased stress, mental health problems, as well as accidents and injuries. In addition, the needs of children in the 21st century with its increasing reliance on technology are different from those in past centuries. Severe information deprivation can result in a situation where children are not only not as well educated as their peers in more developed countries, but also less able to compete for the type of jobs that are necessary to help them raise themselves to a higher socioeconomic status.
An Issue of Human Rights
Aside from obvious standard of living concerns, severe poverty can result in irreparable physical and psychological damage to children by stunting their development and destroying or reducing their opportunities for fulfillment. According to Gordon, et al, childhood poverty is an issue of social justice because it denies children their basic human rights (2003). To successfully combat childhood poverty, research and administrative data alike indicates that the development of an infrastructure of social services is necessary to help alleviate childhood poverty. Further, literature indicates that a minimal level of family resources is also necessary to help parents meet the needs of their children. However, when such resources are not available, a chain of events may be put into play that will result in other opportunities or relationships to diminish as well. For example, if parents cannot afford to buy the school supplies needed to send their children to school or are living at a level where the only way to survive is if the children work instead of going to school, the children will never receive the education that they need to be able to get a better job, be eligible for better opportunities, and raise their own socioeconomic status.
According to UNICEF more 1 billion children have a severe deprivation of one basic human need and over 670 million live in absolute poverty. These figures can sound rather dry and as if they are not relevant to more comfortable lives in more developed countries. However, the plight of children living in poverty is an issue that affects many. In the United States it is a matter of improving society's ability to be competitive and keep the standard of living high. However, it is not only within one's own society or culture that the poverty of children is an important issue. As globalization of world markets continues and the United States becomes an...
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