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"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of", once said by Confucius, the great philosopher and political theorist of China. This essay is going to compare the child poverty of an underdeveloped nation, India, and a developed nation, Canada. It is going to focus on the dynamic forces that are directly or indirectly the cause of child poverty and to see if there is a consistency in its causes between the two nations. After doing extensive research on the cause and effects of child poverty, it was learned that some of the factors that determine the level of child poverty are the economic states of the countries, the cultural values of its people, the educational systems and their quality and the political regulations of labour market. This essay will go in greater details on how each of these factors contributes to the child poverty, which eventually forces child labour and slavery in India and homelessness of children in Canada.
The primary indicators of children economic security is their family income. If the family income is not sufficient enough to sustain the children's living conditions, than it will hinder their opportunities to participate in schools and community activities, healthy development, and ultimately, their sense of well-being (Canadian Council of Social Development). A common method used to measure the poverty is often based on income and consumption levels. A person is considered poor if his/her consumption levels fall below the minimum level that is required to meet the basic needs. This minimum level is described as the "poverty line", which is necessary to satisfy the basic needs which are different across time and societies. Therefore, the poverty line varies in time and place and every country uses its own poverty line which is appropriate to its level of development, societal norms and values (World Bank). In order to observe the level of child poverty, let us look at some of the statistical numbers of poor families in both countries.
In Canada, as of 2004, 872,000 children under the age of 18 live in low-income families whose average income was $21,400 which is 13% of all Canadian children. On average, these families need another $8000 to not be considered poor (low income). About half of these low-income children families lived in a situation that can be considered fairly severe since their family's income was 75% of the low income level, after the tax cut-offs. Therefore, one can conclude that about a little less than half million children were living in family income of only $16,000. These numbers do not include the unemployment of the families or the discouraged workers of the families which would definitely increase the total number of poor children in Canada. In 2004, about 1 out of 6 children were considered poor compare to non-poor children who were living in families averaging about $75,000 incomes (Statistics Canada, 2004).
In India, on the other hand, child poverty is fierce. The general poverty rate is large enough to begin with. The Gross National Income (GNI) after adjusting in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is $3.37 trillion with a population of 1 Billion people. Canada, on the other hand has GNI in terms of PPP is $1.21 trillion with population of only 33 million people (Google Public Data). The poverty line in India is $765 and there are 35% people living in India who are surviving with $1 per day which is far below the poverty line. There are 75 to 90 million children under the age of 14 who do not attend primary school (Unicef). The exact rate of child poverty is unknown but it can be estimated, in the light of poverty line, that there are well above 100 million kids who are living in poor conditions. It is clear that child poverty in India is a lot more than what it is in Canada.
Let's look at some of the causes of child poverty that lead to child labour. There is a difference between child slavery and child labour. Slavery is when children are forced to work by their employers whereas child labour is the consequent of the most basic human needs, such as food and shelter. The values of the western cultures differ from the values of Indian cultures in regards to the child labour. In Canada, there are regulatory laws that floors the minimum age for employment. In India, on the other hand, there are no such regulations. Children doing labour jobs to meet their basic needs are widely accepted there. When the survival of the family is at stake, all the family members are expected to contribute. It is not surprising that most policy planners and researchers believe that the most significant reason for child labour is the family's poverty, which is in abundance in India.
In western countries such as Canada, primary education is believed to be the most important stage in a child's development. These Canadian values and demands of education can be seen as the reason why it is compulsory for children to get education until the age of 16, except for Ontario and New Brunswick, where it is compulsory to get education until the age of 18. All the public schools are also provided with provincial funding and are strictly regulated by the province's ministry of education. Therefore, everyone is capable of getting quality education no matter how poor the children's family background is. The educational development is one of the major differences between India and Canada. In India, however, the public education system is flawed. More than 900 villages don't have schools. The developing cities have public school but their funding is so small that there is no quality in their education. India spends only about 3% of its GNP on education; it is well below the 6% which was recommended by the Education Commission in the late 1960s. In 1950-1951, 43% of the education budget was for primary education. This declined to 27% in the mid-1970s. More than 90% of this is spent on teachers' salary and administration. The overall literacy rate in India is only 41% which is way below the other developing nations with comparable per capita income (Jha, 2008).
Traditionally, education was meant and accessible to only the elite class, rich families, their children had the luxury of time to not worry about contributing to family's wealth (Weiner 1991). One of the biggest reasons why India has the low literacy rate and high school dropout rate is because of the low perceived advantages of school. Children are often encouraged by their parents to stay at home, to learn a skill or two and then find employment that will contribute to the family's income. This perception is rightly caused by the quality of education system in most villages. If the parents were convinced that schooling would bring about a positive change in their economic conditions in the long run, then they would be willing to make sacrifices in the short run. This was substantiated by studies that shows the parents are ready to send their children to school if they thought educational quality would bring some value in a long run. Basenji's study of primary schooling in Delhi and Mumbai states that "inadequacy of the school system to attract and keep children is more crucial than household's economic circumstances for explaining why so many children are not in school" (Jha, 2008). Therefore, it can be concluded that if the educational quality was to improve, along with people's understanding of educational value that can benefit in a long run, then it would be one of the appropriate steps toward lowering the poverty rate in India.
Furthermore, the government's involvement to reduce the poverty in both of these countries is different. Canadian government plays an active role in combating the poverty through the means of Government Transfers. According to a Statistic Canada study, the government transfers such as the National Child Benefit Program, Employment insurance (EI) and the GST credit, continue to play an important role in supporting families who are suffering through poverty. Child Benefits help parents raise their children the most. During 2003, government transfers helped 628,000 children. If it was not for the government transfers, the child poverty rate would have been 28% instead of 18% in 2003 (Canadian Council of Social Development). In India however, it is expected that due to their undeveloped economy, not much is spent on important factors which can reduce poverty such as agriculture and education. As of 2006, only about 3% of the national GDP was being spent on education and only about 0.2% of the national GDP is being spent on agriculture (rupe-india).
In final analysis, the major determinants of child poverty, or an overall poverty as a matter of fact, is related to a lack of country's economic strength, the cultural attitude toward education, the education quality itself and the governmental policies, regulation and spending toward the poor. After comparing Canadian economic security with India, it is clear that child poverty in India is much greater; it is so great that literally more than half of the population is living on $2 per day income. Indian government needs to (should) spend more on education and agriculture, people of India needs to change their attitude toward education, only than the growing economy of India will rapidly reduce the over-all poverty. Canada on the other hand is in much more stable position, Canadian political involvement in education, regulatory laws on age limits on labour and the must-get education policy, along with government transfers, helps keep the poverty rates lower.