Child Poverty in LaosLocated in the center of South-East Asia, Laos or Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.  Nearly 23% of the total population of 7.2 million people in Laos are below the poverty line.  More than half of the population in Laos are under the age of 18 and they are severely impacted by poverty.  Besides the economic growth, the multidimensional deprivation in children is highly associated with the low levels of infrastructure and the heavy reliance on agricultural activities.  The children in poverty in Laos are impacted in various sectors such as nutrition, child labor and education. It’s important to be addressing child poverty in Laos and the numerous struggles that spawn from it.

Overview of Child Poverty in Laos

In Save the Children’s 2021 Global Childhood Report, Laos was ranked 143 of 186 countries on an index reflecting countries’ average levels of performance based on eight indicators related to child health, education, labor, marriage, childbirth and violence. According to the statistics from UNICEF in 2018, only 12% of children experience no deprivation while the other remaining children under 18 years are suffering from at least two deprivations in the areas of nutrition, health and education.

Food Insecurity

Widespread child malnutrition and food insecurity remain as persistent problems in Laos.  The World Food Program and Lao government ranked Laos 87th out of 177 countries on the 2019 Global Hunger Index.

In terms of food security, the share of the household experiencing severe food insecurity rose to 23% in May 2022.

Child Labor and Education

The report from Save the Children estimated that 28.2% of children aged five to 17 were involved in labor from 2015 to 2020

In 2021, Prime Minister Phankham cited that a low level of development in Laos correlates with the parents’ reliance on their children to help out with finances at home rather than getting an education. The main problem of early involvement in child labor leads to the lack of educational opportunities.  To elaborate, the 2019 Southeast Asia assessment of learning outcomes showed that fifth-grade students are not mastering the minimum proficiency level for the grade in terms of reading, writing and math skills.

Poverty in Laos is forcing children to drop out of school and participate in child labor to help their families.   In 2021, approximately 28% of children are engaged in child labor, instead of learning according to the Save The Children report. Although the Laos Law prohibits child employment under 14, numerous children are engaged in various forms of labor.

Because of the devastating poverty situation, most of the parents in Laos do not see the importance of education and instead encourage their children to participate in physical labor to amend their financial struggle.  According to an official from the Education Department in Sekong province, students aged 10 to 12 from rural areas often quit school or only attend classes two or three days a week. The lack of infrastructure in the education sector and low government spending has aggravated the situation of the children in poverty in Laos for accessing education.

The Impact of COVID-19

Since 2021, the impact of the pandemic adversely impacted the children’s education opportunities in Laos.  Approximately 42% of children stopped attending schools temporarily or permanently after many households faced financial collapse because of the pandemic.

Efforts to address Child Poverty in Laos

The national poverty rate in Laos has continuously dropped with annual GDP growth of 7.3%.  According to the statistics from the World Bank, between 1993 and 2019, the poverty rate fell from 46% to 18%. However, the poverty rate in minority ethnic remained relatively high, with the rate of 34.6%.  This disproportionate poverty rate in minority ethnic groups was ten times higher than among households headed by those who have completed secondary education.

To help improve the education status, the World Bank and the government launched a $47 million national project aimed at improving pre-school and primary education performance in September 2021

USAID also took the progressive approach to child education in Laos in 2022, DA Coleman announced a new $2.6 million USAID grant to support childhood and primary education.

To enhance the nutrition security in Laos, the government of Laos jointly partnered with WFP’s Country Director to launch WFP’s new Country Strategic Plan 2022-2026 in February 2022.  This strategic plan is centered on expanding and strengthening the Government’s school meals program, working to enhance community resilience and ensure food security.

A Look Ahead

By implementing long-term commitments and strategies both nationally and internationally, the prospect of eliminating child poverty in Laos is positive.

Youngwook Chun
Photo: Flickr

Intergenerational Transmission of PovertyMore than 780 million people live below the poverty line, as a result of and contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty. More than 160 million children at risk of continuing to live in poverty by the year 2030. Similarly, those living in poverty will likely remain in poverty. In other words, poor parents raise poor children, who are more likely to remain poor as adults. This intergenerational transmission of poverty refers to two or more successive generations of a family living in poverty. The intergenerational transmission of poverty includes financial, material and environmental assets, human capital and attitudes, cultural and other knowledge or traditions. Therefore, those seeking to end persistent poverty must prioritize childhood poverty.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international agreement that sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child (up to 18), regardless of race, religion or abilities. This agreement expresses that children should live free of the deprivations of poverty. Unfortunately, millions of children are still living in poverty. Children are particularly more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty, malnutrition and poor health.

Effects of Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

This is especially true in developing countries that are riddled with poor sanitation, poor access to clean water and electricity, lack of healthcare services, and a lack of transportation. Such risk factors affect their physical, cognitive and social development. As a result, disadvantaged children are more likely to perform poorly in school, have low incomes and high fertility rates. Consequently, these children will ultimately provide poor care for their children. These deprivations then initiate another cycle of the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Child poverty is a global issue, not just one in developing countries. For example, in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, 19 percent of men who experienced relative poverty as a teenager also experienced poverty while they were in their thirties.

Even when children live in relative poverty, in which they lack the minimum amount of income needed in order to maintain the average standard of living in the society in which they live. They also have much poorer opportunities in education and healthcare, which disproportionately affects their chances of climbing out of poverty.

In Guatemala, a study found healthier children from advantaged homes are more likely to continue their education beyond primary level. These children, consequently, tend to have better cognitive skills during preschool. These children were compared to children with early biological, social and psychological risk factors. Thus, the results show the effects of poverty affect educational success. Subsequently, it also affects the ability to attain jobs with livable wages.

Childhood poverty can also affect society as a whole and feeds into the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Poverty contributes to low educational attainment leading to a less productive workforce and unemployment due to lower skills and productivity.

Strategizing Against Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

UNICEF aims to improve the lives of millions of children and disrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty. To do so, UNICEF provides an agenda to ending childhood poverty:

  • child poverty should be an explicit part of the global development framework and its implementation;
  • every country should explicitly prioritize the reduction of child poverty on their agenda and include appropriate national plans, policies and laws;
  • expand child-sensitive protection systems and programs, improve access to quality public services for the poorest children;
  • an inclusive growth agenda to reach the poorest and most deprived.

Children with a good start in life are much less at risk of being poor as adults. Tackling childhood poverty should be a priority when addressing the intergenerational transmission of poverty. When we help children climb out of the cycle of poverty, we are not just helping them individually, we are also helping society prosper.

Andrea Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Poverty in the United States
While the U.S. is one of the most advanced countries in the world, this does not exempt the nation from struggling with poverty. Issues like food insecurity and homelessness continue to pervade communities in America. Forty million people in the U.S. are living in poverty and the U.N. estimates that almost half of this number are people living in deep poverty. In the text below 10 facts about poverty in the United States are presented.

9 Facts about Poverty in the U.S.

  1. Poverty affects women and people of color disproportionately in the U.S. African Americans have the highest poverty rates of any ethnic group, at 27.4 percent. Around 45.8 percent of black children under the age of 6 are living in poverty, compared to 14.5 percent of white children of the same age.
  2. The U.S. spends only 16.2 percent of its GDP on social programs, compared to 21.3 percent that similarly developed countries do. Social programs like veteran’s benefits and unemployment compensation can make a huge difference in a country’s rates of poverty. An increased amount of spending on these programs has the potential to significantly decrease the number of people in the U.S. living in poverty.
  3. The U.S. is 36th out of 175 developed countries in rates of childhood poverty. This report considered factors like the dropout from school rates, adolescent birth rates and access to quality food. The U.S. has particularly high rates of teen pregnancy and child mortality in comparison to other developed countries.
  4. Rates of child poverty in rural areas are higher than in urban areas in more than 85 percent of states in the U.S. One of the facts about poverty in the United States that is most striking is that one in four children in rural areas in America live in poverty, compared to one in five in urban areas. Southern states have the highest rates of child poverty in the U.S.
  5. Various nonprofit organizations, such as Save the Children, are at work in the U.S. The organization works to give childhoods back to children who have been deprived of this because of their living circumstances. Save the Children has been at work in the U.S. since the Great Depression.
  6. Child poverty rates in the U.S. hit a record low in 2016, at 15.6 percent. This dip is said to be attributed to government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps. The success of programs like SNAP proves that the U.S. should be spending more on public assistance.
  7. The U.S. has one of the largest wealth inequality gaps in the world. The wealthiest 1 percent of households in America own more than 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. In recent decades this gap has gotten even wider. This vast inequality is bad for the American economy and even more detrimental to poor households with no upward mobility.
  8. The affordable housing crisis in the U.S. contributes to high levels of homelessness, especially in major cities. Large cities with the highest living costs often have the highest levels of homelessness. Iowa and Nebraska, two of the cheapest states for housing in America, have the lowest levels of homelessness in the country.
  9. The number of homeless Americans is growing. Rates of homelessness jumped by 9 percent in 2017. The U.S. fiscal plan for 2019 has $8.8 billion of proposed budget cuts for the Department of Housing and Development, so the issue does not seem to be ameliorating in the upcoming years.

Since the U.S. is such an advanced country, issues like poverty often go ignored despite their prevalence. Many of these 10 facts about poverty in the United States are unknown by the American public. With increased awareness in the American population, the nation has the potential to learn to work together and achieve lower rates of poverty across the board.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Unsplash

According to UNICEF, childhood poverty “blights [a child’s life] with ill health, malnutrition and impaired physical and mental development. It saps their energy and undermines their confidence in the future… Chronic malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and frequent illness can lead to poor school performance. Consequently, affected children are more likely to drop out of school early and work at occupations below the poverty line, if they manage to find work at all.”

Extreme poverty in the lives of their parents and adult relatives often spells disaster for children. Adults living in extreme poverty tend to become disillusioned, stressed and edgy, making them prone to violence and lacking in sensitivity.

Because of their circumstances, children living with adults under these circumstances are often subjected to neglect and forced labor as the adults try to cope with the situation at hand.

Children often feel that the only way to escape the cycle of poverty, abuse and neglect is to run away from home. This notion, however, is usually dangerously false, thrusting children into even more extreme poverty circumstances.

One of the best ways to help children living in poverty is to help the adults that they rely on.

There is a long list of things that people living in poverty need — both individually and as a community: money, stress coping mechanisms, an increase in schools, jobs, day-care services, access to water and hospitals in addition to a decrease in street violence and drugs.

Governments must decide if they want to spend more now to provide welfare services to complement the parents’ low paying jobs, or risk a very poor future resting on the backs of ill-prepared, poverty stricken children.

It is also important to ensure that parents gain and maintain the proper parenting skills even when they are stressed. Situations a parent or relative deals with should affect a child in his or her care as little as possible.

If a caregiver’s desire can be maintained to help his or her child to grow up as healthy as possible, both mentally and physically, even as day-to-day life and providing gets harder, we add one more overlooked, yet significant way to help children living in poverty.

There are many short and long term, big and little picture ways in which we can ensure that children in poverty suffer as little as possible and have a chance to escape the cycle that they are exposed to at home. We just have to be willing to implement them.

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: Poverties, UNICEF
Photo: The Guardian