Some 300 million children in South Asia, or half of the region’s under-18 population, suffer from chronic levels of poverty, according to a new United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study presented today at the opening of a conference in Bangladesh.
To combat the enormous amount of poverty afflicting children, UNICEF urged leaders across the region to strengthen efforts tackling the lack of food, education, health, information, shelter, water and sanitation for the young, at the conference in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.
“We now have a better understanding of the real depth of how poverty affects children – not just as a side effect of their parents’ income but their own profound deprivation,” UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Daniel Toole told the meeting on achieving child well-being and equity in South Asia.
Mr. Toole told the two-day gathering that unlike in any other part of the world, “due to persistent and deep inequalities in the region, children in South Asia become trapped in an unrelenting cycle of discrimination at several levels – poor nutrition, health and sanitation and being excluded from education.”
UNICEF is proposing that a shift in the definition of poverty needs to take place – away from a narrow measurement that addresses income exclusively to a definition that includes income poverty, deprivation and well-being, resulting in more effective government policy.
“Investing in children is both a fundamental responsibility and an opportunity that, if not grabbed now, will tarnish a nation’s growth,” said Mr. Toole. “This is a responsibility because poverty and under-nutrition damages a child’s chance to thrive and also hampers the potential of countries to develop.”
He stressed that investing resources into good nutrition, primary health care, education and protection for children “will provide rich rewards in [the] future.”
Programmes involving community-based management of acute malnutrition, newborn and maternal health initiatives and support to basic health services through childhood, youth and early adulthood for women, as well as improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene and education are among the areas requiring a hike in investment, said Mr. Toole.