Childhood and Urban Housing Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean

An Article published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America

Monica Rubio, Regional Adviser for Social Policy, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) at UNICEF, has written a paper based on an Equity for Children’s forthcoming study, Diagnóstico de la infancia urbana en América Latina y El Caribe (Diagnostic of Urban Childhood in LAC). The work is aimed at gauging the extent and severity of household deprivation and inequality affecting Latin American’s children living in cities. The variables used to measure household conditions are:

  • Quality of materials used for housing construction
  • Access to water
  • Overcrowding, as judged by more than three persons per room

The results showed that more than half of all LAC children live in severe or moderately deprived households. Study sources included National Household Surveys, Multiple Indicators Cluster Surveys & Demographic and Household Surveys.

Total Household Deprivation Levels

Red – Severe deprivation              Yellow – Moderate deprivation              Green – No deprivation


Inequalities affecting children’s rights were analyzed based on the level of household deprivation and revealed:

  • 51.2% of children and adolescents in Latin American cities are affected by some form of housing deprivation, compared to 35.8% of adults
  • Children living in deprived households are more likely to die before the age of five, suffer malnutrition, lack health insurance, experience early pregnancy, receive inadequate prenatal care and drop out of school than children living in households with no deprivations. In turn, each of these problems tends to exacerbate other forms of inequality and to undermine rights recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, such as the rights to an adequate standard of living, health care, education or play.
  • In all countries studied, more than 35% of children suffered physical discipline and violence; the average is 65.7% but, in countries including Haiti, Suriname, and Jamaica, the number exceeds 80%.
  • Among three- and four-year-olds living in deprived households, 51.1% do not receive any formal education, compared with 35.2% insecure housing without any formal education. The gap is even wider for adolescents aged 14 to 17: 25.2% and 12.8%, respectively.

In conclusion, the study illustrates an aspect seldom addressed in social policy: that segregation, understood as the concentration of poorer families in areas where living conditions are most inadequate, creates a socio-spatial differentiation among residential areas and disparities in the organization of living space that translates into poor living conditions, socially imbalanced communities and a marked difference in quality of life for children.

This comprehensive urban study contributes to policymaking that improves urban children’s quality of life and their future prospects across the region.

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