Equity for Children’s long term associate located in the UK, Young Lives, released a new report with key research messages for children in developing countries entitled Changing Children’s Lives: Risks and Opportunities. The authors, Kirrily Pells and Martin Woodhead, offer numerical data and case studies aimed at revealing how macro-level environmental influences have changed children’s lives from 2000-2010. The report considers macro-level economic, social, and technological changes within the micro-level setting of children’s living environments such as home, school, and community. Ultimately, the study reveals that while many gains have been achieved in living standards, the poorest children continue to be left behind.
Young Lives is a longitudinal study of childhood poverty tracking 12,000 children over 15 years in Ethiopia, India (in the state of Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Vietnam. The two trends identified in the Risks and Opportunities report strongly support the equity agenda of reaching the most marginalized first. The first trend is that the poorest communities experience overlapping and multi-dimensional disadvantages calling for a holistic approach to service access. Secondly, social policies such as poverty reduction schemes and service access has decreased vulnerability to risks and has significantly improved children’s survival and overall health and well-being. Overall the report provides evidence that social protection schemes aimed at remedying structural causes of disadvantage can change children’s lives for the better.
Six research messages comprise the report :
1. Even though living standards are rising, the poorest groups show significantly less improvements. Household wealth and consumption increased in all four countries but gaps persist. Improvements in living standards do not ensure that children’s lives are improved and the benefits are not distributed evenly. The persistence of stunting among the poorest groups of children, for example, demonstrates that economic growth must be sustainable and pro-poor because macro-level impacts are not distributed evenly and often do not reach the poorest households.
2. Poor households are more likely to be affected by repeated environmental and economic shocks such as vulnerability to food prices but social protection schemes can help by strategically targeting those groups.
3. When access to basic services and infrastructure is expanded to groups that already experience social exclusion, beneficiaries are presented with both new opportunities and new risks. Community characteristics play a role in macro-level economic and social changes and can afford children opportunities or limit them. When policies are geared toward communities rather than households there can be tensions between communities, and children in neglected communities should also be considered.
4. Increased access to formal education has resulted in higher aspirations for schooling and has resulted in a need for higher quality education services.
5. Despite improvements to service access, children still inhabit traditional work roles that contribute to the household. Whether through paid work or unpaid chores, children continue to make work contributions to their households, even if they are attending school and accessing new services. These types of time and effort restraints should be considered by policymakers by addressing structural causes of external shock vulnerability.
6. Rapid social change creates new issues within households and communities. To this end, policies setting out to address new social developments should take context and broader societal structures such as poverty and gender norms into account.
Overall, the report concludes that in order for poverty reduction to reach the most marginalized children, policy makers must have a holistic understanding for children’s lives and development. They must engage with underlying causes of poverty, and not just the manifestations. Where children live and the nuances of their households and communities plays a major role in the opportunities and risks to which they are exposed.