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Child poverty in Africa: an SDG emergency in the making

Briefing/policy papers

Written by Maria Quattri

The profile of world poverty is changing dramatically. This briefing paper focuses on one of the most troubling but least explored aspects of that change: a marked increase in the share of global extreme poverty accounted for by children in Africa. While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a collective pledge by governments to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 for ‘all people everywhere’, as things stand that pledge will be broken for African children. Updating projections presented in an earlier paper, we estimate that 304.7 million sub-Saharan African children (aged 0–19) will be living in extreme poverty in 2030. These children will account for 55% of world poverty in 2030, compared with 43% in 2018 – and over three times the share in 2000.

These figures have troubling implications and, left unattended, child poverty in Africa will derail the SDG project. Yet the policy response has been muted, with few African governments prioritising child poverty within their overall poverty reduction strategies. Despite its own evidence on human capital and emerging poverty trends, the World Bank has not adjusted its poverty eradication approach to reflect the weight of child poverty in Africa either. The International Monetary Fund is doing valuable work on SDG financing, but it has not altered its fiscal policy advice or loan conditions to reflect the imperative of child poverty reduction. The same can be said for aid donors, UN agencies and civil society organisations.

There are no blueprints for success in combating child poverty, but policy-makers can draw on a wide evidence base to inform policy design. Redistributive economic growth underpinned by progressive taxation and more equitable public spending holds the key to accelerated poverty reduction – and the evidence set out in this paper points to the case for putting the most deprived children at the centre of redistributive policies. We identify five critical areas where public policies need to respond to child poverty: cash transfers, increased and more equitable public spending, adolescent children, fiscal policy, aid partnerships.

The time has come for African governments, donors, international agencies and civil society organisations to develop coherent responses to the challenge of child poverty. The credibility of the SDGs and, more importantly, the future of a region’s children depend on it.

Children raise their hands to answer a question at the Wodia Berete School in Conakry, Guinea, March 17, 2015
Image credit:Dominic Chavez/World Bank ~ Image license:CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kevin Watkins and Maria Quattri