“The State of the World’s Children Report 2012” Panel Discussion

March 7, 2012 || New York, New York

Equity for Children at The New School and UNICEF co-hosted a panel discussion on Wednesday, March 7 to present UNICEF’sThe State of the World’s Children Report 2012:  Children in an Urban World.  With nearly 150 in attendance, the panelists and discussions afterwards addressed child poverty at the local and international levels.  Several adolescents spoke as well and shared their personal experiences of poverty and deprivation in NYC.
March7MainPhotos(3)The session began with presentations from several teenagers from the International Movement ATD Fourth World youth group, a non-profit organization focusing on human rights training for impoverished young people in NYC. Several children noted being stereotyped as dangerous, violent and lazy because of their race and where they live.  Others discussed the challenge of attending under-resourced schools with overwhelmed teachers. They noted challenges beyond material poverty, such as the feeling that pursuing a path of success and achievement feels like making a choice to leave one’s community behind. Their comments highlighted the long term impact of persistent marginalization and illustrated what is often omitted from facts and figures about poverty.

Mark Montgomery, Professor of Economics at SUNY Stony Brook, emphasized the way that researchers and policy makers address intra-urban poverty in developing countries, which is often ignored. He presented data challenging common misperceptions that shape research on child poverty, including the notion that most urban poor children are located in slums in mega-cities. In fact, he shared, only 12 percent of urban poor children live in mega-cities. Most live in smaller cities offering few employment opportunities and services compared with those in larger cities. The current discourse surrounding child poverty, he clarified, mistakenly assumes that recent migrants to cities are from rural villages, when in fact they more frequently migrate from other cities. He cautioned policy makers and researchers not to overemphasize slum dwelling and pointed out that the tendency to do so ignores young domestic workers who are isolated in more wealthy urban areas.

Alberto Minujin, Director of Equity for Children, presented findings from his research on Intra-Urban Disparities in Latin America and the Caribbean.  He described discussions in the field about child poverty as highlighting disparities between rural and urban life. They often overlook growing intra-urban disparity that is masked by urban averages.  He described a large disparity between urban rich and urban poor rates of immunization.

Similarly, he explained that urban girls from the most deprived group are nearly twice as likely to become pregnant than girls experiencing the least deprivation in urban area.  He noted that typical measures of poverty address income inequality, which describes adult poverty only. Poverty has unique impacts on children, however, and research must address definitions of child poverty by focusing on care, school and the stability of relationships that surround children.  He concluded his presentation noting that the key challenge facing those concerned with children in poverty is to address the injustice of distribution and persistent horizontal inequality.

Dr. Pamela Wridt, Co-Director of the Children’s Environments Research Group, CUNY Graduate Center, brought a perspective about child-led assessments of communities and the Child Friendly Cities Initiatives.  The program engages children directly in the process of collecting and analyzing data about their rights and roles within their communities. Dr. Wridt noted that children’s rights are not typically addressed in school and that doing so brings many advantages.   The process also establishes data for policy makers and other adults in power, as well as for the children themselves.

Commissioner of the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, Jeanne Mullgrav, spoke next and explained that New York City devotes one third of its budget to youth services and 30 percent of the city’s children live in poverty. Disproportionately concentrated in geographic areas such as the Bronx, where 40 percent of children live in poverty, she also noted that Black and Latino high school graduation rates remain at a low 60 percent and 58 percent respectively.  She described the many children who remain disconnected, not in school or in the workforce. The agency addresses these disparities by using data to direct resources where they are needed most.

UNICEF Officer-in-Charge of the Division of Policy and Practice, Robert Jenkins, offered concluding comments, noting the trend of growing inequalities.  He called for data that accurately describes the characteristics of the disadvantaged. He also noted the need for platforms of engagement that connect the voices of children to those adults in authority who have the power to address poverty with action.

Following the presentations, discussant Sue Le-Ba, UNICEF Research Officer on The State of the World’s Children Report in the Division of Communication, asked panelists to name top priorities for policymakers concerned with poverty reduction, and how data on urban poverty can move to the forefront of policy and practice.

A discussion ensued about critical priorities:

  • focusing on providing basic social services and addressing horizontal inequality
  • the essential importance and process of data mapping
  • accurately describing and addressing poverty through enhanced engagement and collaboration across city agencies
  • incorporating children’s voices as an component part of policymaking.

For those viewers that could not attend the panel discussion on “Children in an Urban World”, the presentations given on March 7th at The New School can be downloaded HERE.

Full video of the conference is available via The New School’s YouTube channel as linked HERE; and an edited brief video synopsis is also available HERE.

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