Tackling Child Poverty Around the World – UNICEF USA

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There are roughly 333 million children in the world who are living in extreme monetary poverty, surviving on less than $2.15 per day.

Millions more are living in multi-dimensional poverty, which means they lack at least two of life’s basic essentials: sufficient shelter, a home with enough heat, nutritious food. For many, it means working for a living, and having no time or freedom to play with peers, learn or go to school.

Half of the world’s 1.2 billion people living in multidimensional poverty are children under age 18

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world agreed to end extreme poverty, everywhere, in all its forms, by 2030. And while progress is being made — globally, 50 million fewer children were living in extreme poverty in 2022 compared to 2013 — global efforts are not on track to meet SDG targets.

Bahaa, 13, of Lebanon left school to go to work to help support his family.
Thirteen-year-old Bahaa works to help support his parents in Lebanon. Children living in poverty often miss out on education. UNICEF is working with partners in Lebanon and around the world to change that. © UNICEF/UN0693130/UNICEF Lebanon

UNICEF works with governments and other partners to tackle the impacts of poverty on children and to mitigate poverty-related risks to their health, education and well-being by:

  • advocating for and supporting the implementation of social policies and programs that help families lift themselves out of poverty
  • providing technical expertise to help measure, monitor and report on child poverty, to better inform government policy design and implementation
  • building regional, national and global partnerships to foster greater collaboration across all sectors (public, private, civil society) working to ensure every child has an equitable chance in life

Here are a few examples of UNICEF’s poverty work around the world.

Cushioning the devastating impacts of Lebanon’s economic crisis with cash assistance

All regions in the world have seen a steady decline in extreme poverty rates — except for sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa regions. 

In Lebanon, a UNICEF-supported cash assistance program called Haddi has been providing support to eligible families since 2021, helping to cushion the devastating impacts of the country’s economic crisis. Beneficiaries include Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian households with children at risk of child labor or child marriage, children with disabilities, children lacking access to education and children needing nutrition support.

An evaluation of the program conducted in 2022 found that even relatively small monthly cash payments — $40 for one child, $60 for two children and $80 for three or more children — can have an immensely positive impact on children’s lives, improving food security, household spending on basic services and overall support and care. Families receiving assistance were 14 percent less likely to reduce either the size or number of their meals. 

UNICEF is now leveraging the success of the Haddi program to influence other cash assistance programs.

In a separate effort, UNICEF supported a public communications and advocacy campaign highlighting the short- and long-term impacts of multi-dimensional child poverty, to bring more attention to the issue and to generate public support for the economic and policy reforms needed to address child deprivation in Lebanon.

A boy and his father use a hygiene kit provided by UNICEF to wash their hands at the Al-Alili camp in Al Khawkhah district, Al-Hudaydah, Yemen.
At Al-Alili camp in Al Khawkhah district, Al-Hudaydah Governorate, Yemen, Abdullah Ahmed Hasan and his son Belal make use of a hygiene kit provided by UNICEF. Displaced by the war for many years now, Abdullah no longer has a job and struggles to provide basic – but very expensive – household necessities. Now instead of buying soap, he can spend the little money he has on flour, potatoes and other food items. © UNICEF/UN0752107/Hayyan

Generating evidence to inform social policy in Yemen

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. UNICEF supports governments in several countries, including fragile contexts, with child poverty-related policy analysis.

In Yemen, for example, UNICEF supported the government in preparing and publishing editions of the Yemen Socioeconomic Update, a key national source of information on socioeconomic issues affecting programming for children living in poverty.

Evidence generation of this kind, along with communications and advocacy support, helps advance key policy decisions and initiate or expand programs across social sectors, including social protection, that can effect meaningful change for children already living in poverty and those who are vulnerable to it. 

Addressing malnutrition and child poverty in the Horn of Africa 

Sub-Saharan Africa carries the highest burden of children — 40 percent — living in extreme poverty, and accounts for the largest share increase in the last decade, jumping from 54.8 percent in 2013 to 71.1 percent in 2022.

Rapid population growth, limited existing social protection measures and challenging global trends – conflict, climate-related disasters and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – are all leaving more children across the region vulnerable to poverty. 

Social protection measures play an especially crucial role in achieving a wide range of positive outcomes for children by addressing poverty as a root cause of various deprivations – including food scarcity.

Ten-month-old Mansuur is held by his mother, Harira Adow, at the UNICEF-supported stabilization center of Garissa County Referral Hospital in Kenya, where he is recovering from severe acute malnutrition.
Harira Adow holds her 10-month-old son, Mansuur, who is being treated for severe acute malnutrition, at the UNICEF-supported stabilization center at Garissa County Referral Hospital in Kenya. Prolonged drought displaced families and exacerbated food insecurity in the region, prompting UNICEF and partners to launch the No Time to Waste initiative. Learn more about what UNICEF is doing to prevent and treat child wasting. © UNICEF/UN0836010/Odhiambo

As many countries faced food and nutrition crises due to food price inflation and child poverty in 2022, UNICEF launched No Time to Waste — an initiative that mobilizes resources for 15 countries with the highest rates of child malnutrition, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. The initiative includes cash transfers as part of a minimum package of interventions.

Keeping girls in school in Madagascar

Children living in poverty are less likely to have access to education. If they are in school, they are at higher risk of dropping out.

One effort to address the poverty gap in education is the UNICEF-supported Let Us Learn initiative, which focuses on supporting children transitioning to secondary school in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Liberia, Madagascar and Nepal.

In Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in Africa, cash transfers led to a 7 percent increase in enrollment among students — particularly girls — aged 11 to 14. With the cash assistance, families were able to cover mandatory school fees.

Rouweidah, center, and her classmates in Mahajanga, in the Boeny region in northwestern Madagascar, are benefitting from the UNICEF-supported Let Us Learn program, now in its 12th year of implementation in the country.
More girls like Rouweidah, center, and her classmates in Mahajanga, Boeny region in northwestern Madagascar, are attending secondary school in Madagascar with support through the Let Us Learn program, launched by UNICEF and partners in 2011. © UNICEF/UNI441162/Andriantsoarana 

Learn more about how UNICEF is working with partners to end child poverty and mitigate its impacts.

UNICEF remains steadfast in its commitment to reversing critical setbacks in child poverty eradication, and realizing the rights of all children, everywhere. Your contribution can help UNICEF build a world where every child has what they need to survive, thrive and fulfill their true potential — free from the constraints of poverty. Donate today.

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