Child Poverty Conceptualization And Approaches To Measurement Education Essay

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Several streams of ideas have emerged to inform and shape the new literature on child poverty in the development discourse across the globe. Barrientos and Dejong (2004) have indicated that there are two commonly used measures of poverty: the poverty headcount, which measures the percentage of the people who are trap in poverty, and the poverty gap, which measures the extent to which income fall below the poverty line. Even though poverty defies a single definition, conventional/economic approaches in defining the term has been understood as an imbalance between people's needs and resources. Base on this, traditional conceptualization of the term poverty have focused on resource availability to meet an individual's basic needs (Spicker, 2007). Not until recently, income was generally accepted as a useful indicator of child poverty. For instance the (World Bank, 2000) consider someone to be living in 'absolute poverty' if his income fell below US$1 a day, now US$1.25 base on adjusted prices of 2008. By this measure about 1.2 billion people are living in absolute poverty in developing and transitional economies (Rowson, 2001). Adequate income is seen as indispensable to a person's well-being and freedom (Howe and Pidwell, 2004). Thus from the income perspective children in households whose income level falls below some minimum deemed level necessary to meet basic needs are considered poor (UNICEF, 2011). This is based on the fact that children are dependent on their families or others and enter or avoid poverty by virtue of their family's economic situations (Brooks-Gum and Duncan, 1997). Income-based approaches therefore lend themselves to ready measurement and policy and have persisted for decades as an approach in child poverty conceptualization and policy response. The income measure is considered grossly inadequate in identifying child poverty and has been recognized as limiting, resulting in a major shift in thinking about child poverty. Gordon et al (2003) have argued that setting an arbitrary child poverty income threshold is untenable and would lead inaccurate policy conclusions due to the fact that the extent of child poverty is not just dependent on family income but also on the the provision of certain important infrastructure. A further critique of it reveals that not only does the income approach reflects arbitrary standards, it also fail to consider living standards, hides the true situation of children by assuming that income expenditure is shared equally among household members and miscalculate he overall cost in bringing up a child (Adelman et al, 2003). It fails to capture the welfare on children who are dependants (Feeny and Boyden, 2004). In recent times, there has been a rethink in the development discourse of defining child poverty. The uni-dimensional approaches which focus on income or material resources have now paved way to multidimensional constructions of child poverty. Such multi-dimensional approaches consider issues of social rights, social exclusion and social participation, together with income and material deprivation (Kingdon and Knight, 2003; Spicker, 2007). These social indicators give the true nature of poverty among children (UNICEF, 2011). Macdonald (2008) equally expounds that approaches which consider social exclusion, social disadvantage, material deprivation, and well-being are pertinent in understanding the multi-dimensional nature of child poverty.

The Bristol deprivation model also provides an excellent multi-dimensional approach for measuring child poverty. It does not only measure the extent of child poverty but also the depth and severity of poverty. Income poverty measures and deprivation are tightly linked but there is general agreement that the concept of deprivation covers the various conditions, independent of income, experienced by people who are poor, while the concept of poverty refers to the lack of income and other resources which make those conditions inescapable or at least highly likely (Gordon et al 2003). Thus the deprivation measures of child poverty are now based on internationally agreed definitions based on child rights such as adequate nutrition, safe drinking water, decent sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information (Minujin, 2009). Deprivation therefore provides indices that are broad and reflect different aspects of living standards, including personal, physical and mental conditions, local and environmental facilities, social activities and customs (Gordon et al, 2003).

There is a third and fourth approach called the capability and participatory approaches. The capability approach pioneered by Amartya Sen, also rejects monetary income as a measure of well-being. It provides useful insight of indicators of the freedom to live a "valued" life. In the capability framework, poverty is defined as failure to achieve certain minimal or basic capabilities, where "basic capabilities" are "the ability to satisfy certain crucially important functioning's up to certain minimally adequate levels" (Sen, 1993, p. 41).

The capability approach constitutes an alternative way of conceptualising individual behaviour, assessing well-being and identifying policy objectives, based on the rejection of utilitarianism as the measure of welfare and of utility maximisation as a behavioural assumption (Ruggeri et al, 2003). Here, emphasis is placed on people's abilities and opportunities to enjoy long, healthy lives, to be literate and to participate freely in their society. A closer look of the capability indicators for policy making, as a whole, suggest that it measures well being in terms of final outcomes rather than as proxies for those outcomes.

The participatory approach-pioneered by Chambers-aims to get people including children themselves to participate in decisions about what it means to be poor and the magnitude of poverty (Chambers, 1994, 1997). This approach is underpinned on the premise of asking children their perception and understanding of poverty thereby ranking themselves as either poor or not. The practice of participatory poverty assessments (PPA) evolved from participatory rural appraisal (PRA), defined as "a growing family of approaches and methods to enable local people to share, enhance and analyze their knowledge of life and conditions, to plan and to act" (Chambers, 1994, p. 57). This paper adopts multi-dimensional conceptualisation approaches, by viewing child poverty through the lens of material deprivation(income) and also the social, capability and the participatory approaches as deprivation in one area (eg, nutrition) can affect wellbeing in another (eg, health or ability to learn). Base on this, I will use poverty in its wider sense - to refer to a linked material and social deprivation, rather than simply a lack of income (Barrientos and Dejong, 2004).


Children constitute a particularly vulnerable group in developing and transition countries. Growing up in poverty can be detrimental to children's physical, emotional and spiritual development. Understanding the concept of child poverty, vulnerability and wellbeing and their linkages would therefore serve as a critical step towards providing policy direction in improving living standards among children. However, child poverty and vulnerability are rarely differentiated from poverty in general and its special dimensions and effects on wellbeing are seldom recognized. Child poverty differs from adult poverty in that it has different causes and effects, and the impact of poverty during childhood can have detrimental effects on children which are irreversible (UNICEF, 2011). Chambers (1989) defines vulnerability as defenselessness, insecurity and exposure to risk, shocks and stress. He views vulnerability as not only exposure to risk but also the difficulty in coping with that risk. Chambers (1989) further makes a distinction between external side of risks and shocks and the internal side which is defenselessness, which suggests lack of the means to cope with shocks. From historical perspective, vulnerability has been perceived as a uniquely dynamic concept which recognises and capture changes while poverty is static (Moser, 1998). However there has been increasing recognition in the development arena that poverty is also dynamic, "that some of the poor are not poor all the time" (Yaqub, 2000). This means that a historical synchronization exist between poverty and vulnerability. Two views are dominant in literature in understanding how child poverty and vulnerability interlock; the "risks-centric view" and the "rights-centric view". The former defined as variability in the living standards caused by consumption simply highlights transient poverty while the latter is where vulnerability is caused by lack of social and political rights, focuses on chronic poverty (Damas and Rayhan, 2004).

In order to measure absolute poverty and its effects on the wellbeing and the development of children, (Gordon et al, 2003) maintain that it is necessary to define the threshold measures of severe deprivation of basic human need. Their study focused on eight dimensions of deprivation which significantly impact on wellbeing of children including: food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, information access to services. They find that one in two children in the sample suffers from severe deprivation in at least one dimension, and that one in three children suffer from two or more forms of severe deprivation. They further indicate that deprivation in one dimension can impact on other dimensions of well-being thus for example poor nutrition among children will have negative health consequences and may well impair the ability to learn, sometimes(Gordon et al, 2003). Micklewright and Stewart (1999) have also provided four 'domains of well-being' that a child needs to lead what Sen has referred to as a 'good life': thus material well-being, health and survival, education and personal development and social inclusion/participation. This suggests that income may not be the only important attribute in maintaining and living a good life. Aysan (1993) identifies several pathways through which vulnerability may come about and pushes children (population) into deeper poverty and affect wellbeing. He grouped these pathways into "social" and "political". Thus hunger, poor health, fragile and hazardous location, lack of access to resources and services constitute the social dimension whereas lack of access to information and knowledge, lack of public awareness, limited power and representation constitution the political (Aysan 1993 cited in Damas and Rayan, 2004). Poverty in childhood can cause lifelong cognitive and physical impairment, where children become permanently disadvantaged and this in turn perpetuates the cycle of poverty across generations. UNESCO in their study of "children in abject poverty in Uganda" revealed that a larger proportion of deprived children have acquired psychopathological behaviour, increasingly becoming involved in crime, drug abuse and violence. Many, too, are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and yet enter the labour market at very young ages, all of which seriously affects their growth and well-being (UNESCO, 2005). Luthar in his study of Poverty and Children's Adjustment further identifies several ways through which a child's wellbeing may be susceptible and influence the development outcomes for children. (Luthar, 1999) identified teenage mothers, family structure, parental psychopathology, discipline and limit-setting, warmth and support, maltreatment, families as mediators or moderators of effects of poverty, support from extended kin, religion, school experiences, peer relations, quality of physical environment, and social capital in the neighbourhood of residence as major and strong pathways through which poverty influences the wellbeing of children. He further elucidate that child outcomes therefore should embrace both behavioural and emotional indices of psychopathology as well as aspects of competence and self-esteem (Luthar, 1999). More importantly, it is worthy of note that children under this category experience extreme poverty, which compounds household, community and national poverty (UNESCO, 2005). This suggests that poverty and vulnerability among children have an impact not only on the quality of their lives, but also on the quantity of life (Barrientos and DeJong, 2004). That is why UNICEF has continuously propagated that investing in children is therefore critical for achieving equitable and sustainable human development (UNICEF, 2011)


Current policy discourse has embraced broad multinational conceptualizations of Childhood poverty. Generally it is important to view anti-poverty policies which improve the lives of children as not intended special pleading case on behalf of children. Marcus et al (2004) have noted that "Donors, governments and many civil actors increasingly agree, at least at the level of rhetoric, on the vital importance of tackling childhood poverty, whether inspired by moral outrage or more instrumental arguments about the potential of action in childhood to break poverty cycles, the need to eradicate poverty among children is rarely overtly disputed". This section examines how far poverty reduction strategies have recognized childhood poverty as a priority across the globe. Though not a comprehensive review, it provides insight of some policy responses and strategies adopted by National Government across the globe with respect to child poverty reduction if not total elimination.

It is well known that growing up in an impoverished family adversely affects child physiological health, intellectual and emotional development, educational attainment level and propensity to be involved in criminal activity (Reynolds et al 2001, Guo and Harris 2000, Aber and Bennett 1997, Eamon 2001 cited in Larkin 2012). Even though this issue is universally acknowledged, it is important to mention that different government and policy documents methods adopted in solving child poverty assumes certain normative values about childhood poverty and often shaped by the experiences and assumptions of policy makers.

In recent decades public policies in many OECD countries within the development arena have focused on the challenge of reducing child poverty. For instance in Australia, in 1987, the then Prime Minister promised to "end the need for child poverty" by 1990, in Canada, in 1989 the House of Commons unanimously resolved to "seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000", while in the United Kingdom, a target was set to reduce the number of children living in low-income households by one quarter by 2004-05, as a contribution to a broader target of halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020 (Whiteford and Adema, 2007). There are two opposing views in literature with regards to the question, what policy response should be used in addressing child poverty? The debate in the literature tries to strike an appropriate balance between benefits strategies of increasing the adequacy of benefits for low-income families with children and the "work strategy" of promoting policies to increase employment among poor families (Whiteford and Adema, 2007). Thus the two main ways for a government to help people with low incomes - providing them with support directly and encouraging them to earn more themselves - are in head-on conflict with each other (Adam, Brewer and Shepherd, 2006, p.1). These views continue to be keenly contested in combating child poverty, however a major strand of opinion suggest that work efforts is central to child poverty reduction (Rector and Hederman, 2003). Whiteford and Adema, (2007) maintain that, in practice, however, many government initiatives to reduce child poverty involve a mix of policies designed which focus on increasing benefits for jobless families while maintaining or improving incentives to work and across the OECD area, a number of Government documents stress on paid jobs and adequate social protection; both as integral part in combating child poverty. Fighting child poverty has been on the priority list of the development agenda of several OECD countries. "Typical policies by the United Kingdom Government include Child and Working Families Tax Credits; National Childcare Strategy; improved maternity and family leave provision; New Deals for Lone Parents and Partners of the Unemployed; and, benefit increases (through Child Support and Income Support(Larking, 2012). One significant programme that had had success in the UK is the Sure Start programme. This programme specifically targeted children living in most deprived communities. The programme was designed locally with a participatory approach that involved the parents and local planners and contained five essential provisions. It consisted of "outreach and home visiting; parenting support; support for good quality play, learning and childcare experiences; primary healthcare and advice; and support for children and parents with special needs" (Stewart, 2005 p. 147). By 2004, the programme reached 400,000 children, around one-third of the poorest children in the country (Stewart 2005). White et al (2003) have suggested that child poverty needs to be directly measured and explicitly included in poverty profiles, as children represent a large share of the population and their welfare is the key to future poverty reduction. Moreover, their poverty and vulnerability has cumulative and long-term consequences for their future and that of their children (Barrientos and DeJong, 2004). Marcus et al (2002) have provided some useful analysis of poverty reduction strategies of some 23 selected countries. Their analyses reveal that child poverty reduction strategies have focused on three overarching areas; economic growth measures, social sector investment and social protection programmes. The social protection measures included policies to protect and increase income and livelihood, subsidise consumption, and improve access to services. According to the World Bank, estimate of poverty with and without social protection programmes in the Kyrgyz Republic shows that among social protection beneficiaries, the extreme poverty headcount would have increased by 24%, the gap by 42% and the severity of poverty by 57%, if the beneficiaries had not had access to social protection while total poverty would have increased as well, with 10% for the headcount, 22% for the gap and 31% for poverty severity (World Bank, 2003). Marcus et al in their examination of the poverty reduction strategies of the 23 developing economies found that measures to promote school attendance, access health services, bolster family/household incomes or livelihoods were important policy focus of those countries child poverty reduction strategies. This suggests a mix approach of policies in reducing child poverty as noted by (Adema, 2007). Their examination also revealed few strategies specifically designed to promote the wellbeing of 'vulnerable groups of children', such as orphans, street children or disabled children. However, measures to tackle regional inequalities in school attendance, or low enrolment among girls, reducing inequalities between different groups of children, and to combating discriminatory practices received little policy attention (Marcus, et al 2002). One distinctive issue, that emerged from (Marcus et al, 2002) examination of the 23 developing economies poverty reduction strategies was child labour. They found that even though there are high profile of child labour issues in the economies in recent years, only five of the strategies they examined mentioned child labour and of these only Kenya's PRSP and Honduras's PRSP link this analysis to action. None of the strategies examined made a comprehensive analysis of the dimensions of poverty among children and young people (Marcus et al 2002). In Burkina Faso and Cameroon, among the policy responses proposed to counteract the negative effects of the global financial crisis on child welfare, a targeted cash transfer (following a proxy-means test approach) to predicted poor children has been an effective programme (Cockburn et al, 2012). It is contended that "Eradicating childhood poverty requires substantial changes in the power relations of international development- with greater national control, greater inputs from disadvantaged people themselves, and an end to global economic policies and structures which systematically advantage rich countries and people" (MARCUS et al, 2002). Childhood poverty is important and must be specifically included in poverty reduction strategies because children are disproportionately represented in society. Therefore (UNICEF, 2000), maintains that 'poverty reduction begins with children'.