New study shows over one billion children severely deprived in the developing world

A new study published today [Wednesday 22 October] for UNICEF by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol has produced the first scientific measurements of child poverty in the developing world. 

Launched by Mary Robinson at LSE (on Tuesday 21 October) and by senior figures at the House of Commons, it shows that over one billion children (more than half of those living in developing countries), suffer from severe deprivation and 674 million (over a third) are living in conditions of absolute poverty. The report's findings will be discussed at a conference at LSE today, click here for details.  

Dave Gordon, professor of social justice at the University of Bristol and one of the authors of the report, Child Poverty in the Developing World, said: 'Many of the children surveyed who were living in absolute poverty will have died or had their health profoundly damaged by the time the report is published, as a direct consequence of their appalling living conditions. Many others will have had their development so severely impaired that they may be unable to escape from a lifetime of grinding poverty.'

Based on a sample of nearly 1.2 million children from 46 developing countries - the largest and most accurate sample of children ever assembled - the researchers found:

  • Over six hundred million (34 per cent) children are living in dwellings with more than five people per room or which have a mud floor
  • Over half a billion children (31 per cent) have no kind of toilet facility
  • Nearly 376 million (20 per cent) of children use unsafe water sources or have more than a 15 minute walk to water
  • 134 million children aged between seven and 18 (13 per cent) have never been to school
  • 91 million children under five (15 per cent) are severely malnourished
  • 265 million children (15 per cent) have never received any immunisations or have chronic, untreated diarrhoea
  • Nearly 450 million aged between three and 18 (25 per cent) have no access to radio, television, telephone or newspapers at home

The study found significant differences between regions, with Sub-Saharan Africa having the highest rates of severe deprivation with respect to four of the seven indicators - shelter, water, education and health. There were also clear gender differences, particularly with regards to education deprivation, with girls 60 per cent more likely to be severely educationally deprived. Girls in the Middle East and North Africa region are three times more likely than boys to be educationally deprived. Children in rural areas are much more likely to be severely deprived than urban children, particularly with regards to water, sanitation and education. In a number of countries, absolute poverty rates among children in rural areas are as high as 90 per cent.

The report concludes that anti-poverty strategies need to respond to local conditions, and that blanket solutions to eradicating child poverty will be unsuccessful. Considerably more emphasis needs to be placed on improving basic infrastructure and social services for families with children, particularly with regards to shelter and sanitation in rural areas. An international investment fund for payment towards national schemes of child benefit in cash or kind is suggested as a means to provide the impetus for rapid fulfilment of children's fundamental rights to social security and an adequate standard of living.

Shailen Nandy at the University of Bristol and one of the co-authors of the report, said: 'At this rate the UN Millennium Development Goals are unlikely to be met, given declining international commitment to development aid. The results of cutting public spending on basic social services have been an increase in poverty and inequality, a fact which organisations like the World Bank need to acknowledge.'

The findings of the report will be discussed at a conference at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) today. For full details of this event, and details on attending the conference, click here


To reserve a press seat for the conference, please contact Jessica Winterstein, LSE Press Office, on 020 7955 7060 or email

For further details about the report, please contact the authors:

  • Professor Dave Gordon, Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research, University of Bristol, on 0117 954 6761
  • Professor Peter Townsend, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE, on 020 7955 6632
  • Christina Pantazis, Towensend Centre for International Poverty Research, University of Bristol, on 0117 954 6766

Journalists with queries relating to UNICEF should contact Sarah Vincent, UNICEF UK, on 07958 058106

To request a review copy of the report, please contact Helen Bolton, Policy Press, on 0117 331 4097, email: or Julia Mortimer on 0117 331 4098, email: 

Notes for editors:

Aim and background of study
The study was commissioned by UNICEF to provide a scientific measurement of the extent and nature of child poverty in the developing world. The report, Child Poverty in the Developing World, is a summary of a much larger research project on child poverty and child rights. It contributes to UNICEF's work on reducing child poverty around the world.

The analysis for the report was based on Demographic and Health Survey and, for China, the China Health and Nutrition Survey data, on nearly 1.2 million children in 46 countries collected mainly during the late 1990s. It is a particularly good sample of African children (with interview data on one child in every 650) although the number of children in the East Asian and Pacific sample (123,400) represents a lower sampling fraction (one child in every 4,500). The information about the children's lives were reported by their mothers or main carers.

The report uses the definition of absolute poverty agreed by the international community at the 1995 World Summit on Social Development. Absolute poverty was defined as: '...a condition characterised 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 services.'

The study defines absolute poverty among children as suffering from two or more severe deprivations of basic human need and severe deprivation of at least one basic human need.

22 October 2003