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Children in Africa will make up more than half of global poverty by 2030 – new ODI paper

Written by Maria Quattri, Kevin Watkins

Africa’s children are being left further and further behind in the drive to eradicate extreme poverty and will make up more than half of the world’s poor by 2030, according to new research from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Save the Children UK (SCUK).

A perfect storm of slow and unequal economic growth, demographic trends and the depth of current poverty means around 305 million African children will be living in poverty by 2030, the target date set by the international community for eliminating extreme poverty in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Researchers found that on average 87 million African children will be born into poverty each year in the 2020s. The new paper, Child Poverty in Africa, highlights a worrying gap between this evidence and the response of African governments, donors and international financial institutions such as the World Bank.

Kevin Watkins, chief executive of SCUK, said: ‘Put simply, the world’s population of children is increasing most rapidly in the region where poverty is coming down most slowly. These trends are unfolding in full view of the governments who have pledged to eradicate poverty – yet their response to child poverty has been a case study in inertia.’

The paper details how Africa is in the early stages of a demographic transition. Fertility rates are falling slowly. On average, mothers give birth to four-to-five children, pushing Africa’s share of global births from around 29% today to a projected 36% by 2030. However, at the same time poverty has fallen more slowly in Africa than other regions, with an estimated 40% of the population living on less than $1.90 a day.

Co-author Maria Quattri, research fellow at ODI, said: ‘The global extreme poverty problem is increasingly an African child poverty problem. Failure to put in place effective policy responses will compromise prospects for the region reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend.’

The paper also turns the spotlight on the wider implications of child poverty. Children born into extreme poverty are more likely to experience early childhood malnutrition and less to succeed in education, which is a potential passport out of poverty.

The ODI/SCUK research found little evidence of African governments developing coherent policy responses. The paper also warns that the IMF, the World Bank and other donors are failing to put child poverty at the centre of their agendas.

‘Child poverty is an affront to basic rights and equal opportunity. It is also a guaranteed route to failure for a swathe of 2030 development goals in education, health, and gender equality,’ said Mr Watkins.

‘The most effective weapon to combat this is redistributive economic growth, underpinned by progressive taxation and more equitable public spending to reach the most disadvantaged children.’

The report identifies a range of policies with the potential to tackle child poverty including cash transfers, targeted investments in early childhood nutrition, and increased spending in critical areas of social provision.

Notes to editors

  • The report, Child poverty in Africa, will be published at 00.01 on Tuesday 27 August
  • Child poverty projections are based on the World Bank poverty figures for 2030 in the 2019 working paper How much does reducing inequality matter for global poverty? (Lackner et al, 2019) combined with UN population data and household survey data on fertility.
  • Fertility rates are regional averages from national Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) after 2010. Regions are defined based on World Bank PovcalNet regional country classification.
  • Demography estimates are from UNDESA’s World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision

For more information please contact James Rush on [email protected] or +44 (0)7808 791265