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Child Poverty in Africa: Facts & Statistics

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Child poverty is a global issue, but in Africa this problem is worse than nearly anywhere else in the world. In this lesson, we'll talk about the risks of child poverty, as well as the roots of this problem.

Child Poverty in Africa

In the United States, we sometimes make jokes about how poor we are at various points in our lives. ''I'm a college student-I'm so broke'', ''I'm in between jobs right now'', ''My utilities bill was super high this month''. While these pressures do exist, relatively few people in the United States truly know what it means to live in poverty. By internationally-recognized definitions, poverty describes a state of living where a person cannot afford basic, fundamental necessities. Poverty is relatively low in the United States, but that's not true everywhere. In Africa, poverty is not only widespread but in fact the experience of the majority. This is a big concern for the global community, but is even worse when we consider that roughly half of impoverished people in Africa are children. It's a situation that threatens not just our present, but our future as well.

Percentage of population living on less than 2 dollars per day
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The Situation

So, what's going on in Africa? The African continent contains more impoverished nations than nearly any other region in the world. In fact, 28 of the world's poorest countries are in Africa. The worst cases are in sub-Saharan Africa, the region south of the Sahara Desert. By most estimates, half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa are impoverished, which means that 2 out of 3 children in this region are living without access to basic needs.

Abilities of nations to meet basic needs
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Health Risks of Child Poverty

The rampant poverty of sub-Saharan Africa is especially troubling for children, for whom health risks associated with poverty are much greater. Poverty is not simply a matter of money but instead implies access to basic needs. Without reliable resources, many children do not have access to clean water, sufficient food, or basic sanitation. As a result, up to 20% of children in this region are born with or develop a serious disability. Stunted growth is also a rising issue, with malnutrition leading to children that are unable to fully develop.

Percentage of children with stunted growth
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On top of these issues, child poverty results in a lack of access to medicine and that has been another major problem. Diseases like malaria or even conditions like diarrhea, easily treatable elsewhere, are major killers in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, roughly 80% of global child fatalities from malaria occur in this region. By some accounts, up to 3,000 children per day die of malaria.

Infant mortality rates
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Related Risks

Unfortunately, the risks associated with child poverty don't end there. Poverty can lead to several other dangerous situations as well. Not only is child labor higher in areas with rampant poverty, but the poorer an area is the more exploitative that labor becomes. In sub-Saharan Africa, both the sex trade and armed militias utilize children as workers. These conditions are often far from humane, but with few other options in terms of food and shelter, many children are driven into these areas.

Even for children who do not end up in exploitative labor, poverty greatly decreases opportunities. In fact, 2 out of ever 5 children in sub-Saharan Africa will not even finish primary school, let alone secondary. This is a very dangerous situation because with limited opportunities, the cycles of poverty are extraordinarily difficult to break. Most children born into poverty will die in poverty, and their children will live in the exact same way.

Why This Is Happening

So far, all of this has sounded terrible. But the point isn't just to reduce the number of hours you are able to soundly sleep tonight. We need to understand why child poverty has become such an issue in Africa. There are numerous factors, but many of them come back to Africa's attempts to develop industrial economies that can compete on a global scale. African countries were one of the last to decolonize with most nations not achieving independence until the later 20th century. As a result, all of their infrastructure was developed with colonial intentions- basically to supply raw products to the empire. When these empires were kicked out of Africa, they left behind a series of new nations without the resources or infrastructures to develop productive economies, as well as deep political and ethnic conflicts that keep populations divided to this day.

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