‘Failure’ to tackle child poverty worldwide

Governments in both developed and developing countries are not taking widely agreed-upon steps in critical areas known to make a difference to children's opportunities, according to a new report.

The report presents comparative data, never previously available, on child policies in 193 countries – nearly every country in the world. It reveals how millions of children across the globe face conditions that limit their opportunities to thrive and reach their full potential. It maps the answers to key poverty-related questions such as:

  • Which countries have established a minimum wage, and is it set above the poverty line?
  • How many countries provide financial support to families or to disabled children?
  • Is income protection during unemployment available, and for how long?
  • What countries still charge tuition for secondary school, erecting barriers for poor children?

Key findings

  • 167 countries have established a national minimum wage: yet in 40 of these, a family with a working adult with one dependent child may be expected to subsist on $2 or less per person per day. Six countries have no legislated minimum age for employment. Children may be put to work as young as 12 or 13 years old in five countries, at age 14 in 29 countries, and at age 15 in 63 countries.
  • The vast majority of countries provide maternity pay for new mothers – just eight do not, including the United States. But far fewer make similar arrangements for fathers. Only 81 countries provide paid leave that can be taken by men, either through paternity leave (67 countries) or through leave available to either parent.
  • Although universal free primary education has become a reality for most of the world's children, 61 countries still charge tuition for all or some secondary education. Despite global recognition that inclusive education helps children with special needs achieve their full potential, only 73 countries place children with disabilities in the same classrooms as non-disabled children; 62 include them in the same schools, but not necessarily the same classes; and 28 educate them separately.
  • Girls are particularly vulnerable to early marriage, which can often result in them being taken out of school. In 54 countries, they are permitted to marry between one and three years before boys.
  • Just 58 countries worldwide provide specific cash benefits or supplements to cover the needs of children with disabilities.

One of the report's authors said: 'Our findings show how far nations still have to go to realise a world where all children have a chance to thrive, not just survive. National laws and policies in areas ranging from labour to education to poverty reduction fall far short of what countries have committed to in international agreements. At the same time, there are resource-constrained countries that are ahead of the curve, showing the feasibility of action and giving hope that dramatic change is possible'.

Source: Jody Heymann and Kristen McNeill, Changing Children's Chances: New Findings on Child Policy Worldwide, World Policy Analysis Centre (University of California, Los Angeles)
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