Tackling Childhood Poverty: Supporting Children's Well-being

Sri Padmavati Mahila Viswavidyalayam, Tirupati

Young Lives India held its first national conference, Tackling Childhood Poverty: Supporting Children’s Wellbeing in Sri Padmavati Mahila Viswavidyalayam, Tirupati, from 30 July to 1 August 2012 to explore the ways poverty affects children’s lives, and what governments and donors can do to address it and mainstream the emerging concerns into the policy debate.

The conference brought together a number of key policymakers, research scholars, practitioners and child rights activists, and was structured around a core of plenary presentations by invited speakers and a series of 32 paper presentations by participants, which included some of the Young Lives findings to date.  The four key themes  were: ‘dimensions of childhood poverty’, ‘breaking the cycle of childhood poverty’, ‘methodologies for research on children and poverty’ and ‘policy perspectives for children and poverty’.

Dr Renu Singh, Country Director of Young Lives, India, set the tone for the conference by stressing that “there is a need to look at inequality and inequity as prime indicators for childhood policy”.

In his keynote address, Mr K Chandra Mouli, Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Commissioner, Andhra Pradesh Academy of Rural Development (AMR-APARD),  said: “Children deserve to be the focus of policy attention, both because they stand to benefit immensely from appropriate and effective intervention and also because investing in children lays the foundation for the future of a country.” He noted five of the eight MDGs relate to health and education, and meeting them means achieving the well-being of women and children first. Mr Chandra Mouli considered Young Lives to be a significant study that looks into childhood poverty “with a child lens” and informs about children’s issues that are crucial to policymakers such as  health, nutrition, cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Reinforcing the Young Lives approach of putting human capital formulation on a high pedestal, Mr Chandra Mouli went on to talk of how human capital framework was to him a holistic conceptualisation of human development with Health, Education, Nutrition, Sanitation, Gender, Drinking water, Environment and Employment, HENS G DEE (in tune with a popular film song).

Prof R Radhakrishna examined the deprivation of basic capabilities among children of India which are required to survive and achieve growth consistent with their potential. The worst forms of deprivation include malnutrition, lack of basic immunisation, failure to attend school and participation in child labour.  Making a reference to the research by Prof Sukhatme, he explained how conversion of food intake into energy depends on access to safe drinking water, healthcare and environmental hygiene. Prof Radhakrishna noted there is conclusive evidence that all factors underlying food energy conversion efficiency were deficient for a significant section of population.  Education and children’s work are other areas of deprivation and these multiple deprivations occur everywhere.  The elimination of these child deprivations is a major challenge to governance at different levels.  If the Right to Education Act and the proposed Right to Food Act were implemented “in the true spirit” and if there was simultaneous improvement in the efficacy of the public distribution system, the barriers in the way of achieving growth potential of children would be eliminated. Dr Sambi Reddy presented useful data on the deprivation levels of children India and showed how deprivation indicators could be used to measure child poverty.

“Can the Shackles of child poverty be broken?” questioned the plenary speaker Prof R Siva Prasad.  Talking of poverty traps, he described development and deprivation as twins, and development and displacement as conjoined twins. Development strategies to reduce poverty did not eliminate it, but have only compounded the problem because, he says, of the intricate and multidimensional nature of poverty, including child poverty, using a diagram to illustrate his point.

Prof Janki Andharia, TISS Mumbai and member of the Young Lives India Advisory Board, in her presentation titled ‘Policy Perspectives: Recognising Countours of the Discourse’  pointed out that children are not isolated actors, and so policies aimed to realise children’s rights should be related to policies oriented towards the women, families, and the community and nations. This, she said, requires greater convergence between policies in the social sector and in the economic domain. She concluded by showing how neoliberalism and globalisation impact children in poverty and suggested the need to broaden the discourse to include macro policies and the role of multilateral aid agencies.

Dr Vijay Kumar, Policy Coordinator, Save the Children, Young Lives India, mentioned that “Service delivery under the tribal sub-plan needs improvement and universalisation of TPDS, the Targeted Public Distribution System, with specific targeting of socially and economically disadvantaged communities, is required.”

Over the three days of the conference there were around 32 paper presentations touching on vital areas like the patterns and determinants of transition in stunting among younger children in Andhra Pradesh, nutritional and economic perspective of children in poverty, strategies to reduce childhood poverty, declining sex ratio, gender discrimination, malnutrition, maternal education, the impact of climate change on children’s health, and social protection for children in Andhra Pradesh.

The conference ended with about 100 participants (including students and research scholars) drawing key recommendations for policymakers to address childhood poverty, as follows:

  • The need for policymakers to conceptualise ‘childhood poverty’ as distinct from general poverty and the need for National and State government to develop monetary and non-monetary indicators to track the same was stressed.
  • Monitoring of these indicators through strengthening of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) as well as social audits and capacity building of habitation, and Panchayat-level bodies such as Child Protection Committees (CPC) annd School Management Committee (SMC) etc were noted as essential. To address the causes of childhood poverty investment on Social Protection schemes was seen as absolutely necessary.
  • There was a consensus that malnutrition is an area of great concern since it affects not only children’s physical development but also their cognitive development and well-being. Strengthening services, overcoming key administrative and implementation level problems are important elements of securing better nutrition for children and will support progress towards the MDGs.
  • There is a need for greater awareness of childhood poverty and its consequences and awareness generation activities and advocacy campaigns through micro community-based social movements were recommended.
  • The role of judiciary and media to address childhood poverty was also highlighted.
  • Policymakers need to give top priority to health and education sectors, and government should review the Child Action Plan periodically, taking measures to address both quality and effective implementation.
  • The government needs to support autonomous research institutions to research on issues related to childhood poverty, skill formation and health management.  There is a need for research on community-managed sustainable agriculture to focus on nutritional content of the children. Research outcomes of childhood poverty need to act as a roadmap for policy formations.

Dr Uma Vennam, Young Lives India Lead Qualitative Researcher and the conference coordinator, said: “The Young Lives national conference paid much-needed attention to the fact that there is a disproportionate concentration of poverty among children compared to adults, and thus childhood poverty needs intervention.”

“Convergence and child-centred planning are thes key, as a fall in poverty generally results not from policies aimed at poverty but those with wider social objectives,” concluded Dr Renu Singh, Young Lives India Country Director.