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Over half of all children living in poverty

Street children sleep on the path of one of Dhaka’s roads, Bangladesh, July 2007. The country is one of the poorest in the world. A large percentage of the population is young and living below the poverty level.
(Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

Over half of Bangladesh’s children are living in poverty and there is widespread deprivation amongst them in the basic areas of food, sanitation and shelter, with limited ability to escape their circumstances, according to experts.

A new report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Bangladesh found that 33 million children under 18 - around 56 percent of the child population - are currently living below the International Poverty Line, defined as disposable income of US$1 per person per day.

Bangladesh has a population of 140 million; 63 million or 44 percent of the total population are children.

Launched on 25 November, the UNICEF study on child poverty and disparities in Bangladesh was conducted by the Dhaka-based Human Development Research Centre (HDRC), a research and policy development organization.

It proposed a shift in the definition of poverty which moves away from a measurement based only on household income to also incorporate income poverty, deprivation and well-being.

“We have used seven indicators to measure the level of the deprivation of children. These are shelter, sanitation, water, information, food, education and health,” Abul Barkat, lead consultant for the HDRC study and professor of economics at Dhaka University, told IRIN.

This new approach presents a more holistic view of the situation, he said.

The study showed that 64 percent of children are deprived of sanitation, 57 percent are deprived of nutrition, 52 percent are deprived of information. Forty-one percent are deprived of shelter, 16 percent are deprived of healthcare and 8 percent are deprived of education.

The share of indigenous households with children suffering from at least one deprivation is considerably higher at 93 percent, compared to 58 percent of the majority Bengali households.

Bangladesh’s minority indigenous population is estimated to be around two million people or 1.5 percent of the population, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Few opportunities

“Children in Bangladeshi poor families face serious hardships in terms of… deprivation and vulnerability,” Nazma Quasem, vice-president of the Family Planning Association of Bangladesh (FPAB) and member of Bangladesh Children’s Rights Forum, told IRIN.

Children working at a balloon manufacturer's in the midst of highly combustive plastic powder

Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN
Children working at a balloon manufacturer's in the midst of highly combustive plastic powder...
Monday, June 16, 2008
Skills education for working children
Children working at a balloon manufacturer's in the midst of highly combustive plastic powder...

Photo: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN
Children working at a balloon manufacturer's in the midst of highly combustive plastic powder

“These children grow up with extremely limited scope for personal growth and opportunity to escape their current state of misery,” she said

Quasem, a long-term children’s rights activist, pointed out that extreme poverty is also responsible for the presence of child labour - one out of every six children is a working child, according to UNICEF - and child abuse in Bangladesh.

“Social polarization, increasing food prices, income inequality, rapid urbanization, lack of land ownership and the devastating effects of natural disasters like droughts, floods and cyclones - all contribute heavily towards the high levels of poverty in Bangladesh,” she said.

She also said the extent of poverty among children can be directly connected to the educational levels of the parents.

The UNICEF findings agree. According to the report, 53 percent of households headed by a person without education lie below the poverty line, while only 19 percent of households headed by persons of secondary and above levels of education face poverty.

According to the agency, global child undernutrition is concentrated in just 24 countries, with the top five being Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.

A separate UNICEF report on child and maternal nutrition released last month found 43 percent of children under five in Bangladesh, or 7.2 million children, are chronically undernourished.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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