The Big Picture

A person collects grain at a food distribution operated by the NGO CARE, four kilometres outside the village of Dannou. © UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2820/Frederic Sautereau

The many dimensions of poverty 

Usually poverty is thought to be lack of income - for example, a person is considered poor if his/her income is less than $1.25 a day. However, poverty is much more than simply the lack of income. Children living in poverty experience a lack of the material, spiritual, and emotional resources they need to survive, develop and thrive. A certain income does not necessarily mean that a household has all it needs to provide what a child needs for a good start in life. That is why it is important to focus on multidimensional child poverty measures that look beyond income and focus on whether children face deprivations to a range of their basic rights such as health, education, information, nutrition, shelter, water and sanitation.

When children are deprived of these rights in the first years of their life, it can limit their potential for physical, intellectual and emotional development. In turn, many children grow up without the opportunity to be healthy and educated and to feel safe and confident.

Causes of Poverty 

Poverty is a very complex issue that has many causes. One can think about it at the individual or country level. At the individual level, if someone does not have the skills or health or the opportunity to secure a decent paying job that can guarantee their basic needs, he/she will likely fall into poverty—or never get out of it to begin with. A sad reality of poverty is that it can easily be transmitted from one generation to the next. Poverty in childhood is a root cause of poverty in adulthood: Impoverished children often grow up to be impoverished parents who in turn bring up their own children in poverty. Thus, poverty can breed poverty, forming a vicious cycle. You can imagine then the consequences for a country and its people. If the population is undernourished, unhealthy, and has no education, it will be very hard for that economy to grow.

At the country level, there are also many complex causes of poverty. At one point all societies were poor. Through technological innovations that favored faster, cheaper, more efficient and bigger scale production of goods, as well as medical innovations that improved lives, some countries have been able to escape poverty. Yet, many are “trapped” in poverty due to many reasons like conflicts and wars, bad geography, bad governance, and not having access to the global market.

Global study on child poverty and disparities 

To understand how and where children are experiencing poverty, UNICEF conducts a Global Study on Child Poverty and Disparities in over 50 countries around the world. In many of these country studies young people are asked to share their experiences growing up poor. For example the Bhutan child poverty study shares with us the experience of a 14 year old boy living in poverty: “When I was about seven, I was in the village looking after the cattle. Those were the most difficult parts of my life. I had to walk in the forests without any slippers looking after the cattle. My father always promised me that he would send me to school, but he never did that. When he got a work … he even bought me school uniform to get admitted in school, but by that time I was considered too old for the school.”

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