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Nonfiction in response to No Poverty
January 2018
By Karen Wu
Graphic Credit: Christina Zhao

Did you know that approximately 22,000 children die each day because of poverty? Did you also know that one missile costs the same amount it would take to feed a school of hungry children every day for five years? According to UNICEF and the World Bank, there are about 385 million children globally living in extreme poverty, and 25% of these children live in the some of the world’s richest countries. Poverty can be very difficult to escape for several reasons, two of which are that it is very difficult for those in poverty to have a good education and sustain good health.


It has been shown that children in poverty tend to be less successful in school than their more affluent peers. According to UNICEF, about one in three children in Africa do not complete school. In the United States, the dropout rate is higher for students living in poverty. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2008, the dropout rate of students living in poverty was 8.7%, while children from affluent families had a dropout rate of 2.0%. Studies done in the UK show that on average, children from poorer backgrounds are behind their affluent peers.


So why is this? Well, there are several causes. For one, many schools in poorer communities are under-resourced, making it harder for students to succeed there than in better-funded schools. For example, in China, there is a large disparity between rural and urban schools. Jiang Xueqin, a Beijing-based educator and writer, said in a CNN article, “Kids in the rural regions are at a huge disadvantage. Teachers and school are under-resourced.” Furthermore, a study published in Nature Neuroscience found that poor children tend to have lower brain surface area (which is correlated to cognitive ability),  but not by any fault of their own. Instead, the researchers thought that it was due to the lack of parental guidance. Poverty can be very mentally taxing for parents, leaving them less ready to make everyday parenting decisions. Some parents are also very busy trying to make enough to survive. Jiang said in the aforementioned CNN article that many parents in the rural areas of China move to cities to seek work, leaving their children behind. One of the researchers in the Nature Neuroscience study wrote an article concerning this matter for the Washington Post and said that “this accumulation of stress in children’s lives has cascading effects on brain systems critical to learning, remembering and reasoning.”


A child’s education is not the only thing poverty puts at risk -- poverty also puts at risk the health of children. The Child Poverty Action Group says that poverty is also associated with a higher risk of both illness and premature death. Statistically, children from low-income families are more likely to die at birth or in infancy than children born into richer families. In the UK on average, children born in poorer areas weigh about 200 grams less at birth than those born in wealthier areas. There are many reasons for this.


One major threat to health is the lack of good nutrition. Lack of access to healthy food can result in eating junk food (which, according to the Huffington Post, is 550 USD cheaper per year) or just not eating at all, depending on the situation. This could cause those without access to nutritious food to become either seriously overweight or underweight, neither of which is healthy. Many poor children in developing countries also lack access to safe drinking water. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 43% of children do not have access to clean drinking water. Unsanitary water can result in diseases, such as malaria -- mosquitoes carry malaria, and they lay their larvae in water. According to WHO and UNICEF, there are about 500 million recorded malarial cases with approximately one million deaths. Access to healthcare also plays a major role in these deaths. For example, about 90% of malaria deaths occur in Africa, where there is limited access to healthcare. Furthermore, according to UNICEF, about one in five children don’t receive vaccinations. Most of these kids live in the poorest areas of the world. With full access to immunizations, about one-third of deaths of children under five would be preventable. Furthermore, if the area where children live is unsafe, these conditions could threaten their well-being. Environmental hazards such as toxic waste dumps can lead to serious health issues. According to the American Psychological Association, neighborhoods with violence can cause a number of psychosocial difficulties as well as harm physical health. Exposure to violence also predicts future violent behavior in youth.


Poverty, and the injustice it brings, must be combated. Those who don’t escape poverty will be forced to raise their children in poverty, and their children too will suffer the debilitating effects of poverty -- it can be a vicious cycle. There are many programs that can help end poverty. For example, microcredits, where certain organizations give a small loan to impoverished people have accounted for 40% of moderate poverty reduction in rural Bangladesh, according to the World Bank. Another program that several developed countries such as Finland, Sweden, and Canada have implemented is giving families child benefits -- basically, giving the guardians of children a social security payment. In most countries that have this, the amount is based on the number of children and the family’s eligibility for government assistance.


Of course, these are only two possibilities. There are many more. Humanity must keep on fighting poverty in order to ensure that children are granted a fair opportunity at a future. As Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

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