Over 69 million children live in poverty in 40 of the world’s richest countries: UNICEF

Migration, race and ethnicity drives inequalities in child poverty risks in these countries, researchers find
Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Sixty-nine million children or more than one in five, live in poverty in the world’s 40 richest countries part of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU), according to a new report.  

This is despite an overall poverty reduction by nearly 8 per cent across 40 countries from 2012-14 to 2019-21, noted UNICEF in the report released December 5, 2023.

The United Nations child welfare agency’s global research centre, Innocenti, that carried out this research based its calculations on relative poverty. It is used to describe households whose income is 60 per cent of what an average household makes in the country. 

Families living in relative poverty have some money but not enough to afford anything beyond the basic amenities. The indicator is frequently used by developed countries to determine the main poverty line. 

Among those faring best in tackling child poverty were Poland and Slovenia, followed by Latvia and the Republic of Korea, the findings showed. In contrast, some of the richest countries were found to be lagging behind.

Greece, Malta and New Zealand have made progress in child poverty reduction recently. Even then, their rates of child poverty were relatively high. 

In contrast, Denmark, Iceland, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Norway, still have relatively low child poverty rates but displayed an increasing trend, the report noted.

France, Luxembourg, Turkiye and the United Kingdom have high rates of child poverty and are also ranked low in terms of child poverty trends.

Inequalities in child poverty risks

The report also revealed stark inequalities in poverty risks.

Within the EU, there are large and persistent differences in child income poverty rates for children with parents having citizenship within and outside the country where they live.  

Children of migrant parents were 2.4 times as likely to be living in relative income poverty compared to children of the country’s citizens, the data showed. 

“In the EU, 37.2 per cent of children whose parents were migrants lived in income poverty compared with 15.6 per cent of children whose parents were citizens of the country,” according to the report. 

The gap between poverty in the two groups has increased from around 19 percentage points in 2012 to around 22 percentage points in 2021. 

The disparity was also observed in children from racial or ethnic minorities, the analysts wrote. 

Inequalities between types of geographical areas also persist. Despite progress in some countries, there are still substantially higher rates of poverty in rural than in urban areas in many European countries.

Moreover, the number of adults in the household also shaped the economic status of children. On average, across these countries, a child living in a one-adult household was more than three times as likely to live in poverty as a child living with two or more adults. 

In Belgium, Canada, Czechia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Slovenia, children living in a one-adult household were more than five times as likely to be living in poverty as those living with more adults. 

“The impacts of poverty on children are both persistent and damaging,” said Innocenti’s Director, Bo Viktor Nylund.

Children who experience persistent poverty are more than twice as likely to have emotional and behavioural difficulties as children who experienced poverty at one point in time, according to the authors. 

The Report Card urged governments and stakeholders to urgently prioritise and increase expenditure on child and family benefits to eradicate child poverty. 

The authors suggested four areas for actions to reduce child poverty, which include: Expanding child-sensitive social protection; improving and ensuring access to essential services; ensuring decent work and family-friendly policies; and acting to reduce the inequalities in poverty risks.

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