Why poverty hurts our children most

Why poverty hurts our children most
Globally, 16,000 children die each day from conditions associated with extreme poverty. That's more than 11 children who die each minute.

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I grew up in multicultural Hawaiʻi, where traditions from all over the Pacific Rim often acquire new cultural meanings long after losing their original purposes. During my childhood years, my family and I spent many a weekend attending baby luʻau hosted by family, friends, and coworkers. To commemorate their babies’ first birthdays, many parents in Hawaiʻi throw community-wide celebrations featuring traditional Hawaiian delicacies and fare. In ancient Hawaiʻi, where child mortality rates were high, Hawaiian families often waited until their child’s first birthday to pick a name for their little boy or girl. In today’s Hawaiʻi, parents no longer need to worry about whether their baby will live to reach their early milestones. Like most of us in the developed world, we take it for granted that our keiki—our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, and younger siblings—will grow up to live happy and healthy childhoods.

Regardless of our ethnic or cultural background, families in Hawaiʻi still like to celebrate our children through traditional luʻau feasts. Thankfully, the baby luʻau no longer serves as a public announcement that the perilous years of childhood are behind us. We’ve repurposed this feast as a community celebration of the rich and full lives that we want our children to have as they learn and grow.

How children fare around the world

For those of us born into wealthy countries, we no longer need to worry about the diseases that until very recently claimed the lives of our infants and small children, who are among the world’s most susceptible to illnesses such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and parasitic infections.

But the reality is that these illnesses continue to be real concerns for families living in the developing world. The illnesses that present the greatest threats to children also disproportionately affect the global poor. According to the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goals Report, in developing regions, the under-five mortality rate is twice as high for children from the poorest families than it is for those born into the richest families.

With limited access to medical services and health information, it’s often the youngest members of the world’s poorest families and communities who suffer most.

Globally about 16,000 children under the age of five die each day—most from preventable conditions associated with poverty. That’s a staggering number. At that rate, this means that more than 11 children die unnecessarily every single minute. In the five or so minutes it will take you to read this blog post, more than 55 children will have lost their lives to extreme poverty.

Where are our world’s children dying? By far, children from the poorest regions in Africa and Asia are disproportionately harmed by the conditions of extreme poverty. This year, half of under-five deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly a third occurred in Southern Asia.

The situation is grim for our poorest and most vulnerable children, but child mortality can be solved. In fact, we’ve already made great strides in reducing childhood deaths in recent years.

What can we do to help the world’s children?

In the past two decades, the world has become a whole lot safer and healthier for some of our planet’s youngest citizens, and it’s gotten especially better for the world’s poorest children. In 1990, 12.7 million children under five died from preventable causes. Twenty-five years later, global development progress has reduced the under-five child mortality rate by more than half. In 2015, nearly 7 million fewer children died before their fifth birthday. That’s great news, but it still means that 6 million children died from preventable conditions this year alone.

So for those of us with the fortune to have been born in wealthy nations, is there something we can do to help the world’s children?

Yes, the good news is that there is something that we each can do that will make a measurable difference in the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children. The Life You Can Save’s charities work in diverse development areas, but all of them are united by the fact that the work that they do for the world’s neediest children is evidence-backed, rigorously tested, and proven to get money, supplies, and services to the children who need help the most.

In the developing world, even a $100 donation goes a long way. A $100 donation to Project Healthy Children could provide micronutrient food fortification for 384 children, which will prevent childhood malnutrition and hunger. That same amount could help Schistosomiasis Control Initiative dispense deworming treatments to protect 125 school children against debilitating parasitic infections. Or you could fund high-quality, low-cost healthcare for four children through Possible’s rural Nepal medical programs. A $100 donation to Oxfam could provide school lunches for two children for an entire year.

When it comes to helping the our neediest children, we’re presented with many opportunities to make high-impact interventions. Check out our interactive Impact Calculator to find out what you could do for the world’s children.

We’ve made a lot of progress in the last two decades when it comes to helping our children thrive and succeed, and we have a lot more work to do in the years to come. My hope is that one day soon, families all over the world will be able to celebrate their little boy’s first birthday, or their five-year old daughter’s first day at school. These are milestones that all families, no matter where in the world they reside, should be able to look forward to and cherish.

Rhema Hokama
Rhema Hokama
Rhema Hokama is former Director of Communications for The Life You Can Save and holds a PhD from Harvard.
The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.

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