The world's most populous country with a population of 1.27 billion in 20011 , China has made major strides in poverty reduction in recent years. By 2001 5 per cent of China's population lived below the national poverty line.2 Rural poverty is estimated to have fallen from 250 million in 1978 to 35 million in 2000 and from 30.7 per cent of the population to 3.7 per cent according to official statistics.3 Between 4 and 8 per cent of the urban population, somewhere between 15 and 31 million people live in poverty.4
Much of this decline in poverty is due to far-reaching processes of economic and social transition However, economic growth has been slower in Western China, leading to higher poverty rates. For example, in 1988, a person in the West was 3 times as likely as their Eastern counterpart to be poor; by 1998, they were 6 times more likely to be poor.5 This figure shows the enormous rise in inequality in China in recent years - from one of the most equal societies in the world to one of the most unequal.6 Furthermore, the national poverty line is low by international standards, meaning that many more people live close to poverty.
China's transition from a centrally planned to a globalised market economy has helped reduce chronic poverty and disadvantage, but also created new forms of vulnerability and poverty. Eastern China, in particular, has clearly benefited from controlled liberalisation, and carefully used foreign investment - China receives more foreign investment than any other country in the world except for the US.7 At the same time, throughout the country, adapting to the market and preparing for joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001, has had enormous implications for employment and wellbeing.
One critical area of reform is the ongoing restructuring of state-owned enterprises. In 1995-2000, the state sector lost 31 million jobs. Not enough new jobs in the non-state sector have yet been created and an estimated 14.6 million are without a full-time job - an unemployment rate of 12.3 per cent.8 In addition to this, inflation in the early 1990s and the introduction of charges for health and education services increased pressures on many households. Liberalisation has also led to massive migration, as over 120 million people have moved to the cities since 1990, in search of better opportunities.
4.2 million Chinese children live in absolute poverty and 8.7 million live in disadvantaged conditions.9 Both the absolute numbers and proportion of children living in poverty have declined over the 1990s. Education and health levels in China are higher than in many countries with equivalent incomes - life expectancy at birth is 71 years, and 85 per cent of the population aged over 15 are literate. However, improvements in these areas have slowed down over the 1990s and there are major regional differences. For example, in 1999 the national child mortality rate was 32 per thousand but 47.9 in the West.10 While 80 per cent of Western Chinese children complete primary school, this is 9 per cent fewer than the national average and 15 per cent fewer than in Eastern China. Recent studies suggest that the health and education reforms are reducing poor families' ability to make use of these vital services. For example, one study in Beijing, China's richest city, found that 75 of poor families could not afford all children's education costs such as tuition fees and stationery costs, while 50 per cent of poor families in Shanghai had no medical insurance because they could not afford it.11
Urban social security reform
As the structure of the economy has changed, the social security system has had to adapt to protect people from different forms of poverty. Up to 1992, in urban areas, only people without work, with no savings and with no family to depend on were eligible for financial support. A Minimum Living Standards (dibao) system has been developed since 1997 and by 2002 covered 23 per cent of poor urban households. Though this is the main form of social relief in urban China, there are concerns that the amounts allocated are too small to meet people's basic needs for food, clothing shelter, health and education and in particular, aren't enough to allow families to pay the compulsory education fee. Furthermore, large numbers of vulnerable people are excluded because they are unregistered migrants, or are disqualified by local administrations.12
The Ministry of Civil Affairs, under whose responsibility the dibao system falls, is considering increasing the amount paid to ensure that it does, for example, enable school attendance and extending this system to rural areas. It is therefore interested in finding out how far it protects poor families, and their priorities for additional support. CHIP is working with this Ministry to explore these issues as part of wider research on urban poverty and its effects on children.
Wider anti-poverty programmes have been in place since the 1980s, mostly focusing on rural areas. However, in the 5th Plenary Session of the 14th Chinese Communist Party Conference placed urban anti-poverty policy on the agenda for the first time. Shifts in government policy mean there is now growing scope for community anti-poverty initiatives, though at present these remain fairly small scale.13
2 See footnote 1.
3 Using a World Bank $1 per day poverty measure 124 million people were poor at the end of 1997.
S. Cook, 2002, 'From Rice Bowl to Safety Net: insecurity and social protection during China's transition', Development Policy Review 20 (5): 615-636. Using a World Bank $1 per day poverty measure 124 million people were poor at the end of 1997.
4 Tang, J, 1999, 'Situational analysis of poverty and anti-poverty in China' in 1999 Social Development Report, Beijing: Social Science Literature Press.
5 Lu, A and Wei, Z (2002) 'Child poverty and wellbeing in China in the era of economic reforms and external opening', from G.A. Cornia (ed), Harnessing Globalisation for Children: a report to UNICEF (http://www.unicef-icdc.org/research/ ESP/ globaliation.html)
6 The Gini coefficient, a measure of economic inequality, has risen very quickly from 0.23 in 1990 to the present rate of around 0.40. Ren, Y. and Xu, F. 2003, Urban Poverty, Disadvantaged Children and Social Protection: Critical issues for further research, Institute of Population Research, Fudan University and CHIP, London
7 See footnote 1. 8 See footnote 5.
9 Hussein, A. (2003) Urban Poverty in China. Measurement, Patterns and Policies, ILO, Geneva.
10 See footnote 6.
11 See footnote 5.
12 See footnote 6.
13 See footnote 6.
14 See footnote 6.
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Photo: Tim Malyon
Save the Children UK
With an estimated 1.03 billion citizens in 2001, India's population is second only to China's.1 With 260.2 million people living in poverty as of 1999-20002, India is home to the majority of poor people in South Asia, and deprivation is endemic, especially in rural areas. There are also substantial differences in the extent and severity of poverty, both between and within states. Though a group of northern and eastern states have the highest rates of poverty, in most states there are 'high' as well as 'low' poverty regions. Rural poverty is strongly associated with lack of access to assets, skills, and low levels of health and education, which limit people's possibilities of benefiting from economic growth.
Over the last five decades India has made systematic efforts to alleviate poverty through measures to increase economic growth, including liberalization of the economy, targeted programmes, land and tenancy reforms, participatory and empowerment based approaches and the provision of basic services. Between 1973 and 2000, the percentage of the population below the poverty line declined continuously from 54.9 percent to an estimated 26 per cent. Rural poverty reportedly declined from 56.4 per cent to 27.1 per cent during the same period.3 However, the pace of reduction in poverty varied considerably during this period; a reported 10 per cent decline in poverty in the second half of the 1990s is particularly contentious. At the same time, the numbers of people below the poverty line fluctuated substantially, increasing by 13 million during the early 1990s and reportedly decreasing by a massive 60 million during the mid to late 1990s.4 Nonetheless, the absolute numbers in poverty remain very high.
India's social services sector faces major challenges. A growing population, industrialization, and a globalizing economy that places a premium on information and technology, are stretching the capacity of India's education system to deliver relevant and effective services. Yet enormous tasks remain: getting 33 million children from poor families into primary schools, increasing the retention rate so that more children finish primary grades, and upgrading the average quality of the schooling received.5 In health, the country is undergoing an epidemiological transition. There continues to be high rates of communicable diseases, malnutrition, and maternal and perinatal illnesses, predominantly among poor people. There are also growing rates of non-communicable diseases, while rapid urbanization is resulting in new health problems, such as HIV/AIDS, which is placing greater strains on society and the health of the poor in particular.6
Childhood poverty in India
An estimated 400 million of the population are between 0-18 years.7 Life for many of India's children is very hard. Almost half of all children (about 62 million) under the age of five are malnourished and 34 percent of new-borns are significantly underweight.8 Important achievements have been made in health and education. Infant mortality fell from 80 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 69 in 2000.9 The enrolment of primary school-aged children rose from 68 percent in 1992/1993 to 82 percent at the end of the decade.10 But India still accounts for 20 per cent of the world's out-of-school children. It has the largest numbers of working children in the world, with nearly a third of children below 16 years working.11
There are stark inequalities in child wellbeing based on gender, class and caste. Despite efforts of civil society and government, gender biases continue to pervade all aspects of life and particularly limit girls' life chances. The cycle of disadvantage starts at birth and continues through childhood to motherhood and the next generation. It is reflected in the inferior health and educational status of women, the high maternal mortality rate, the neglect of the girl child, the declining sex ratio, and girl's lower rates of school enrolment and subsequent higher participation in the child labour force. Between 1995 - 1999 the gross enrolment ratio for females as a percentage of males was 83 per cent for primary school and 66 per cent for secondary school. 12
Rajasthan is India's largest state, and has one of the highest population growth rates in the country. It is one of the driest areas of the country, with over half the state lying in the arid and semi-arid regions of the Thar Desert. There has been severe drought in 15 of the last 20 years. Agriculture and animal husbandry are the mainstay of the economy, leaving resource-poor households particularly vulnerable to changes in rainfall. One outcome is that migration rates from rural areas are among the highest among all Indian states.
Ecology, livelihood sources and the social structure vary substantially across Rajasthan. As elsewhere in India, caste, class, ethnicity and gender strongly affect access to resources of all kinds. Official statistics suggest that poverty has declined from 33.3 percent to 13.5 percent between 1973 and 2000, though these figures are controversial.13 Rajasthan's health indicators are amongst the poorest in the country, reflecting poverty, difficult living conditions and the fact that the primary health care has not reached a large majority of poor people, especially women and children, dalits and communities living in remote areas. Educational access, enrolment and achievement remain important challenges. The problems of children from underprivileged communities i.e. scheduled (disadvantaged) castes and tribes and minorities are exacerbated by both the lack of access to and poor quality of teaching and educational facilities and the lack of effort to make schools inclusive of all children.
The national Census of 2001 reveals that the child sex ratio (number of girls per thousand boys in the age group 0-6 years is declining. In 2001 it was 909 compared with 916 in 1991.14 In other words, girls' chances of survival appear to be worsening compared with those of boys. Though the reasons for gender discrimination are well-known and are related to a perception that boys are permanent members of a family while girls are only temporary members, that the ratio is worsening rather than improving is a disturbing trend indeed. While school enrolment rates amongst girls have improved ongoing gender discrimination leads to lower rates of school attendance among girls, less exposure to the outside world, and an emphasis on domestic skills.
Policy and action to address the situation
India-wide policy and action
India's anti poverty programmes are mainly run by the central government. There are three main types - rural employment creation and infrastructure development programmes; self-employment; and food subsidy programmes. All three have been subject to reform in recent years to ensure better targeting and coverage. The largest food subsidy programme is the Public Distribution System, which is explicitly targeted towards the poor. The Swaran Jayanti Swarozgar Yojana, is a self-employment programme providing subsidised loans to self help groups. Besides these there are the rural works programmes. There are two main schemes under this- the Employment Assurance scheme and the Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana, which. focuses on infrastructure development to be undertaken by the Gram panchayats or village local governments. All the programmes are giving a greater role to rural local government for implementation and for beneficiary selection and monitoring. The largest programme specifically targeted at children in the 0-6 age group is the Integrated Child Development Services Programme (ICDS). It is a centrally sponsored scheme covering all states.
Rajasthan state policy and action
Broadly, three types of government programmes are being implemented in the state. First, there are centrally sponsored programmes for rural development and poverty reduction. Second, there are programmes implemented by the state government for the welfare of marginalised groups such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes. In addition, there are Special Area Programs that look after the growing needs and aspirations of people in disadvantaged areas. Finally, some of these programs aim to improve the quality of life and to cater to the special needs of vulnerable parts of the population, such as children, women, disabled and older people through organized and sustainable development activities.
During the last decade the Government of Rajasthan has implemented a number of programmes with participation of NGOs for improving the situation of children. In 1995, the government developed a State Plan of Action for Children. It brought to focus the situation of children in Rajasthan and attracted coordinated and planned efforts at various levels for its implementation. In 2003 efforts to formulate a Child Policy for the state was initiated with the participation of civil society organisations, donor agencies and academic groups.
1 World Development Indicators Database, April 2003. http://www.worldbank.org/data/databytopic/databytopic.html
2 Government of India Planning Commission, 2001
3 Mehta, A. and Shah, A., 2003, 'Chronic Poverty in India', World Development, March (vol no. needed)
4 Government of India, 2001, Census of India, 2001, New Delhi
5 World Bank, 1997, India - Achievements and Challenges in Reducing Poverty http://poverty.worldbank.org/library/view/8680
6 World Bank, 2000, India -Reducing Poverty, Accelerating Development, OUP, New Delhi
7 UNICEF Country Statistics: India http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/india_statistics.html
8 World Bank South Asia Region (SAR) country brief http://lnweb18.worldbank.org/SAR/sa.nsf/Countries/India/4F3233D642E4BB3985256B4A00706AA7?OpenDocument
9 see reference 8
10 World Development Indicators Database, April 2003. http://www.worldbank.org/data/databytopic/databytopic.html
11 Estimates for the numbers of working children in India vary considerably from just over 13 million (ILO 2000) to 100 million (estimates from ECPAT) please see http://globalmarch.org/worstformsreport/world/india.html
12 see reference 7, based on Table 7, State of the World's Children 2003, Unicef
13 see reference 3
14 see reference 3
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Until 1991, Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union. On independence, the Government of Kyrgyzstan, like its counterparts in Kazakstan and Russia, but unlike neighbouring Uzbekistan and China opted for 'shock therapy', aiming for a rapid transformation from planned to market economy. This involved widespread privatisation of state-owned enterprises, both industries and services and of state and collective farms. It also involved opening up the economy and Kyrgyzstan joined the World Trade Organisation in 1998. Kyrgyzstan is now starting to recover from the economic shocks associated with transition and independence, and in 2001 GDP grew by 5.3 per cent.1 The majority of the population - approximately 60 per cent - make their living from agriculture.
At independence, Kyrgyzstan was one of the poorest ex-Soviet republics with an estimated 32.9 per cent of the population living below the Soviet 'poverty line'.2 In the early 1990s, as Kyrgyzstan suffered a series of economic shocks, the proportion of people living in poverty rose to over 60 per cent. Since the late 1990s, the situation has stabilised and by 2001, 47 per cent of the population lived below the government poverty line, while 13 per cent were living in extreme poverty.3 Inequality rose very rapidly, though it has declined a little in recent years. The country's GDP per capita is now US$ 270, approximately 66 per cent of its 1989 value, another indication of the serious economic decline Kyrgyzstan has suffered.4
As in other parts of the world, children in Kyrgyzstan disproportionately live in poverty. While 41 percent of the urban population and 51 per cent of the rural population live below the government poverty line, 49 per cent of urban young people under 20 and 55 per cent of rural under 20s lived in poverty in 2001 with 18 per cent unable to afford even their basic food needs. For young children the contrast is even starker - 57 per cent of urban infants under 1, and 65 per cent of rural under 1s lived in poverty.5
At independence, Kyrgyzstan had much higher levels of health and education than many higher-income countries. Though health and education levels are still much higher than in countries with a similar income, there are some signs of a decline in school enrolment. An independent UNICEF study in 1999 estimated that while 2-3 per cent of children have dropped out of school completely, every day only 85-90 per cent of children of the relevant age group attend. Use of kindergartens has declined from 30 per cent at independence to 6 per cent in 2001. In 2001 an estimated 7 per cent of children were malnourished, and approximately 14 per cent of the population had no access to health services.6 Some diseases of poverty, such as tuberculosis have re-emerged and particularly affect teenagers.7 These declining levels of child welfare are related to both to pressures on families who may not be able to afford the costs of education or health care, and due to a massive decline in the resources available for these key services. For example, public spending on health in Kyrgyzstan today is approximately one-third of its 1990 level.8
Growing poverty has also led to children working in a range of jobs, from working on family farms, to agricultural labour for others, domestic service, selling or working as porters at markets. Recent research estimate that approximately 24 per cent of children work either full or part time, similarly since transition there are now homeless or 'street' children in Kyrgyzstan's cities, and some reports of child prostitution and trafficking.
The situation of children today gives rise to serious concerns. There is a risk that poverty cycles could develop whereby today's children grow up to be poor adults and pass that poverty on to their children. At worst, a whole excluded class could develop. CHIP research is exploring how far such cycles are developing.
Policy and action
A number of initiatives are under way to reduce poverty in Kyrgyzstan. The government has developed a Comprehensive Development Framework, which is a 15 year vision for development in Kyrgyzstan. It has also produced the National Poverty Reduction Strategy (NSPR), Kyrgyzstan's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. This is intended to be the first three-year plan for implementing the national development vision. The NSPR prioritises economic growth, good governance and building a fairer society, including specific commitments to tackling childhood poverty. Much activity of international organisations supports priorities outlined in the NSPR. A wide range of local, national, and international non-governmental organisations are also engaged in poverty reduction and social welfare activities, many of them directly with children. However, much more concerted action is needed to tackle the many problems faced by children in poverty in Kyrgyzstan today.
1 UNDP, 2002, The Macroeconomics of poverty: a case study of the Kyrgyz Republic, UNDP, Bishkek
2 Falkingham, J., 1998, 'Poverty in Central Asia' in Central Asia 2010, Prospects for Human Development, UNDP, New York
4 See footnote 1
5 Kyrgyzstan National Statistics Committee figures for 2001.
6 See footnote 1
7 National Statistical Committee (NSC), 1999, Women and Men in the Kyrgyz Republic, NSC, Bishkek
8 see footnote 1
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Transition and poverty
Mongolia's transition from a socialist, centrally-planned one-party state to a multi-party democratic state with a liberalised economy started in 1990. Although never officially part of the former USSR, the country's political, economic and social ties with it were very strong. Mongolia was heavily reliant on the Soviet trading bloc, COMECON, and annual Soviet aid was equivalent to 30 per cent of Mongolia's GDP.1 Mongolia, like Kyrgyzstan, opted for a 'shock therapy' programme of reform. Many industries, services and farms - and all the cows, yaks, goats and sheep also previously owned by the state - were privatised. Most trade barriers were removed and the country joined the World Trade Organisation in 1997. In just seven years, Mongolia had become one of the most open economies in the world.
Such rapid structural adjustment of the economy hit Mongolian families hard. Unemployment rose and inflation and prices soared. Cuts in basic social services and welfare reduced support available to people just as they needed it most. Over the last few years, however, many of these 'shocks' seem to have subsided. Economic growth has been positive since 1995 but had not been enough by 2000, to restore real GDP per capita to the level it was at in 1990.2
Despite increased macro-economic stability and growth, many Mongolians are yet to see the benefits. Inequality - the gap between those benefiting from the market economy and those who are not - is increasing. In 1998 a major survey indicated that 36% of the population were living below the income poverty line and that poverty in Mongolia tends to be higher in many urban areas than in rural.3 A new poverty survey is currently underway for more recent estimates. Figures available suggest only a slight decrease in the percentage of poor people between 1995 and 1998. In absolute numbers of poor people, this is actually an increase of over 40,000.4 Furthermore, the lives of families beneath the poverty line also appear to have got worse over the 1990s.5 It is difficult to assess the numbers of children living in poverty in Mongolia, but many of the poor live in female headed households or are children aged 0-16 years.
Before transition, Mongolia's social services were of a high standard and accessible to all. Now, access to health care for poor families, migrants and those in remote rural areas is poor. This at least partly due to the health insurance scheme that demands user fees and restricts use to those registered as living in that area. The quality of services is bad and those who can often turn to private health clinics for treatment, further increasing the gap between rich and poor. Generally, some progress in health has been made over the 1990s. Birth rates have fallen and more children are surviving: infant and under-5 mortality rates appear to have fallen. Immunisation rates have risen and acute respiratory and diarrhoeal illnesses, both illnesses affecting children, have declined. Malnutrition, however, is a growing concern - 30% of children under five in 1998 had a low height for their age and 10% were underweight.6 Many children and their families also show signs of nutrient deficiency. Some 51% of the population did not have access to safe drinking water in 1998.7
Some 96% of the population were literate in 19908 - with an extensive school network and school dormitory system that allowed herders' children to attend. Education services have suffered badly from cuts in the national budget. Enrolment rates are now rising again after the initial decline in the early 1990s and some of the dormitories have been opened again. But access to education by poor children is limited and many drop out, often for economic reasons. Buildings, heating and equipment are not adequate for learning and the quality of teaching has suffered. Previously high government investment in pre-school education has fallen. Many people are concerned about the future of young people growing up in today's Mongolia.
A particular concern is that the state is failing to support many of those children and their families who are suffering most. As life for families becomes increasingly difficult, many children have more responsibilities at home, for example with increased domestic workloads and more time looking after younger brothers and sisters. Increasing numbers have been forced by circumstances to work for money outside the home, for example fetching and cutting wood for others and working in factories and markets. As a result, some children never enter school, others drop out of classes. The numbers of street children and families in urban areas increased during the 1990s - in a country where harsh temperatures reach as low as minus 30-40 degrees in winter. Although numbers of street children are now falling, many factors related to poverty still push new children onto the streets.
Migration in Mongolia
Mongolia has long had a tradition of pastoralist population movement. For many livestock herders, this is still a way of life. However, since transition in the early 1990s the rate of migration has rapidly increased and patterns of movement have changed. Since the mid 1990s, more migrants are moving from rural to urban areas. In the 5 years before the Census 2000, 52.3% of migrants moved to Ulaanbaatar and 16.2% to the urban aimags (provinces) of Orkhon and Darkhan Uul.9
For many individuals and families, migration is a drastic strategy for coping with insecurity and hardship. One survey suggests that many aspects of many migrants' lives improve as a result of moving.10 However, a study of children's living conditions in peri-urban areas of Ulaanbaatar highlights the hardships faced by many migrants moving to these areas.11 As with liberalisation, there are those who benefit from migration, and those who don't. For children growing up in those households and areas that do not benefit, the implications are potentially very serious.
CHIP research in Mongolia is studying the effects of migration on children's wellbeing - particularly their access to a good quality education. It considers those children and their families who move and those left behind in rural areas with high out migration. It questions if migration is an effective strategy to get out of poverty.
Policy and action in Mongolia to address the situation
There are initiatives underway to reduce poverty in Mongolia. The government has developed plans of action, including a development plan for 2003-2008, and is developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). The PRSP was informed by a Participatory Poverty Assessment carried out in 2000. The PRSP is currently being reviewed by the Boards of the IMF and World Bank. The draft version sets out the principles of poverty reduction policies in Mongolia: economic growth, rural development, human development (including social welfare) and good governance.
Local, national and international organisations are involved in a diverse range of projects, often on a small scale, to tackle poverty and childhood poverty. However more activity is required, both in policy and programmes of action, to address the problems faced by children who live in poverty in Mongolia.
1 UNDP/GOM (2000) Human Development Report Mongolia 2000.
2 Griffin, K, 2001, The macro-economics of poverty, in A strategy for poverty reduction in Mongolia, UNDP mission report, July 2001
3 NSO/UNDP, 1998, Living Standards Measurement Survey 1998, Ulaanbaatar.
4 NSO/, Living Standards Measurement Survey 1995 and NSO/UNDP, Living Standards Measurement Survey 1998, in UNDP/GOM Human Development Report 2000.
5 see reference 4
6 See reference 1
7 See reference 3
8 see reference 1
9 NSO, 2002, Internal Migration and Urbanization in Mongolia: Analysis based on the 2000 Census. 2000 Population and Housing Census, Ulaanbaatar.
10 PTRC/MSWL/UNFPA, 2001, A micro study of internal migration in Mongolia 2000.
11 NCC/UNICEF/SCF, 2002, Peri-Urban Areas of Ulaanbaatar: The Living Conditions of the Child Series.
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