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Child Poverty Rising in Some of the Richest Countries


The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) says the number of children living in poverty has risen in 17 of the world's 24 wealthiest countries.

UNICEF says between 40 million to 50 million children may be growing up in poverty in some of the world's wealthiest countries.

The report finds that in only four countries - Australia, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States - has there been a significant decrease in child poverty since the early 1990s. But with the exception of Norway, the authors note child poverty rates in the other three countries are still too high.

Countries with the lowest child poverty were Denmark and Finland with rates of less than three-percent. Norway follows in third place with 3.4 percent. Despite the falling rate of child poverty in the United States the report puts the overall rate at more than 20 percent.

But UNICEF Regional Director for Europe Philip O'Brien, says the definition of poverty is relative because, for example, a child living in poverty in the United States is clearly not as bad off as a child in poverty in Mexico. Relative poverty in this report was defined as households with income below 50 percent of the national average, with figures taken from 2001.

Mr. O'Brien, says governments can do a lot in lifting children out of poverty.

"It is very clear from the report that higher government spending on family and social benefits is very clearly associated with a lower level of child poverty,” he said. “An important issue, governments can and do make a big difference. The government expenditures, government policies make a big difference. In fact, on average government interventions could reduce rates of child poverty, which would otherwise prevail, by 40 percent, depending on the policies they actually put in place."

Child poverty levels in the United States have fallen by nearly two-and-one-half percent during the past 15 years. The UNICEF report says the drop was mostly due to economic growth and a subsequent boom in employment and not the result of government programs targeting children.

The report says Britain has cut child poverty rates by more than three percent, because it has specifically targeted poor children.

Mr. O'Brien says governments must do more to break the cycle of poverty, which repeats from generation to generation.

"What we now know is the fairly close correlation between growing up or being poor growing up in poverty and the likelihood of subsequent educational under achievement, of association with poor health in adolescence, early pregnancy, substance abuse-all of these are correlated," added Mr. O'Brien.

UNICEF appeals to the world's richest countries to implement policies to bring child poverty rates down to below 10 percent. It calls this a realistic target, one which can be achieved without a significant increase in overall spending.

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