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Global Goals

One in six children living in extreme poverty




Children play outside a metal polishing workshop in a slum in Uttar Pradesh, India. / Photograph courtesy of UN

An estimated one in six children — or 356 million globally — was living in extreme poverty before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and this is set to worsen significantly, according to a new World Bank Group and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) analysis released recently.

“Global Estimate of Children in Monetary Poverty: An Update” notes that sub-Saharan Africa, with its limited social safety nets, accounts for two-thirds of children living in households that struggle to survive on an average of $1.90 a day or less per person — the international measure for extreme poverty, while South Asia accounts for nearly a fifth of these children.

The analysis shows that the number living in extreme poverty decreased moderately by 29 million between 2013 and 2017. However, UNICEF and the World Bank Group warn that any progress made in recent years, has been “slow-paced, unequally distributed, and at risk” due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

“One in six children living in extreme poverty is one in six children struggling to survive,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF director of Programmes.

“These numbers alone should shock anyone. And the scale and depth of what we know about the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic are only set to make matters far worse.

Governments urgently need a children’s recovery plan to prevent countless more children and their families from reaching levels of poverty unseen for many, many years.”

Although children make up around a third of the global population, around half of the extreme poor are children. Furthermore, they are more than twice as likely to be extremely poor as adults.

The youngest children are the worst off — nearly 20 percent of all of them below the age of five in the developing world-living in extremely poor households, the report highlights.

“The fact that one in six children was living in extreme poverty and that 50 percent of the global extreme poor were children, even prior to the coronavirus disease pandemic, is of grave concern to us all,” said Carolina Sánchez-Páramo, global director of Poverty and Equity for the World Bank.

“Extreme poverty deprives hundreds of millions of children of the opportunity to reach their potential, in terms of physical and cognitive development, and threatens their ability to get good jobs in adulthood,” Paramo said.