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New study shows one billion children suffer effects of poverty

UNICEF says more than one million children were surveyed

LONDON, 21 October 2003 - Drawing from the largest, most accurate survey sample of children ever assembled, a new UNICEF-sponsored report has found that over one billion children suffer the severe effects of poverty.

Using a pioneering methodology, the survey measures the extent of child poverty, in terms not only of income, but of deprivation of basic human rights such as shelter, food, water, sanitation, health, education and information. The researchers analysed survey data on nearly 1.2 million children from 46 countries collected mainly during the late 1990’s.

The data is published in a new UNICEF-commissioned report entitled, “Child Poverty in the Developing World” that was launched today at the House of Commons in London. The research team included Dave Gordon of the Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol and Peter Townsend of the London School of Economics.

The results of the study show:

  • One child of every three lives in a dwelling with more than five people per room, or with a mud floor.
  •  Nearly 20% of the world’s children do not have safe water sources or have more than a 15-minute walk to water.
  • Over 15% of children under five in the developing world are severely malnourished. In South Asia alone, more than 90 million children go hungry every day.
  • 134 million children between the ages of 7 to 18 have never been to school.
  • Girls are more likely to go without schooling than boys. In the Middle East and North Africa, in particular, girls are three times more likely than boys to have never attended to school.

UNICEF says that the physical, emotional and intellectual impairment that poverty inflicts on children can mean a lifetime of suffering and want - and a legacy of poverty for the next generation. This cycle constrains the overall economic and social development of a nation. 

“Eradication of the worst manifestations of poverty is not only a moral imperative,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Carol Bellamy.  “It is a practical and affordable possibility - and it starts with investing in children. No effort to reduce global poverty can succeed without first tackling its impact on children.”

Bellamy went on to say that addressing poverty means ensuring that children have access to safe water, adequate sanitation and environments that are healthy and free of disease. All girls and boys must be able to attend and achieve in school, and be protected from injury, with time and space to play, to explore, and to learn.  Too often, poverty deprives children of these necessary foundations for their future. 

UNICEF believes that nurturing and caring for children are the cornerstones of human progress and the organization works with other partners throughout the world to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path.  Breaking the cycle of poverty requires investments by governments, civil society and families in children's rights. Spending on a child's health, nutrition, education, equality and social, emotional and cognitive development is not only an investment in a more democratic and a more equitable society, it is also an investment in a healthier, more literate and, ultimately, a more thriving and safe population.

* * * *

For further information please contact:

Erin Trowbridge, UNICEF New York,
+ 1 212 326 7269, etrowbridge@unicef.org

Sarah Vincent, UNICEF UK Committee,
+ 44(0)20 7405 5592, sarahv@unicef.org.uk

For copies of the report please go to:
or call The Policy Press: 44-117-331-4054

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Read the report:

For journalists seeking a copy of this report, please contact Erin Trowbridge at etrowbridge@unicef.org.

Elizabeth Gibbons' speech to House of Commons on child poverty report