A group of experts hosted by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), UNICEF, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other organizations issued a communique today urging West African leaders to eradicate child poverty. The experts also highlighted the need to monitor child poverty with separate measurements along geographic, gender and socio-economic lines.
The region’s considerable overall economic growth in recent years has not resulted in improvements in the life of vast numbers of children, many of whom still lack access to proper nutrition, basic healthcare, education, clean water and housing.
Since the publication of a UNICEF global study on childhood poverty in 2003, there has been an expansion of policies aimed at addressing the multiple factors that feed into the problem in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, in most countries, inequalities and social exclusion continue to fuel the persistence of high levels of child poverty.
“Child poverty is not only about monetary poverty, but about the actual deprivations children are experiencing,” noted UNICEF Regional Advisor on Social Policy Gustave Nebie, “Children have a right to education, healthcare, information, nutrition, housing, clean water and adequate sanitation. We must ensure our children are free from crippling deprivations today – and enable them to grow into the leaders we need for the future.”
The call to action issued today is the outcome of an International Conference on Child Poverty and Social Protection held at the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja, May 23 – 25. The conference was organised by ECOWAS, UNICEF and the ILO, along with academic networks Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) and Equity for Children. It was attended by 70 noted regional and global experts and academics.
As different Sub-Saharan countries battle a range of health and environmental crises, the negative effects on child welfare deepen and expand to varying degrees across the region. Epidemics such as Ebola, natural disasters including flooding and droughts, and armed conflicts can all counteract improvements that have been made. However, the experts noted at the conference, factors that can be addressed by economic policy, such as poor working conditions, low salaries and high unemployment, can actually have an even greater impact on child poverty. Putting policies in place that address these problems is critical to reducing child poverty and creating a better future, the experts said. They also highlighted the need for social protection measures such as providing cash grants and subsidies.
“Children are not only the most fragile layer in society, they are also the workforce of tomorrow,” said ECOWAS Commissioner Mamadou Traore, “We must put in place a roadmap for the development and adoption of sustainable policies for the eradication of child poverty and for effective and dynamic social protection in the region.”
Noting the significant role that development partners play in the region, the experts also called on them to place child rights at the forefront of the regional development agenda.