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Absolute Poverty After the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, 117 countries adopted a declaration and programme of action which included commitments to eradicate “absolute” and reduce “overall” poverty.

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Absolute Poverty

After the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, 117 countries adopted a declaration and programme of action which included commitments to eradicate “absolute” and reduce “overall” poverty.

Absolute poverty was defined as "a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services." (UN, 1995)


UN General Assembly Definition of Child Poverty,

December 2006

“Children living in poverty are deprived of nutrition, water and sanitation facilities, access to basic health-care services, shelter, education, participation and protection, and that while a severe lack of goods and services hurts every human being, it is most threatening and harmful to children, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, to reach their full potential and to participate as full members of the society”


Deprivation can be conceptualised as a continuum which ranges from no deprivation through mild, moderate and severe deprivation to extreme deprivation.

Continuum of deprivation

In order to measure absolute poverty amongst children, it is necessary to define the threshold measures of severe deprivation of basic human need for:

  • food
  • safe drinking water
  • sanitation facilities
  • health
  • shelter
  • education
  • information
  • access to service

Child Poverty in the World

Over one billion children – half the children in the world- suffer from severe deprivation of basic human need and 30% (650 million)suffer from absolute poverty (two or more severe deprivations).

‘severe deprivation of basic human need’ are those circumstances that are highly likely to have serious adverse consequences for the health, well-being and development of children. Severe deprivations are causally related to ‘poor’ developmental outcomes both long and short term.


Severe Deprivation of Basic Human Need for Children

  • Almost a third of the world’s children live in dwellings with more than five people per room or which have a mud floor.
  • Over half a billion children (27%) have no toilet facilities whatsoever.
  • Over 400 million children (19%) are using unsafe (open) water sources or have more than a 15-minute walk to water.
  • About one child in five, aged 3 to 18, lacks access to radio, television, telephone or newspapers at home.
  • Sixteen percent of children under five years in the world are severely malnourished, almost half of whom are in South Asia.
  • 275 million children (13%) have not been immunised against any diseases or have had a recent illness causing diarrhoea and have not received any medical advice or treatment.
  • One child in nine aged between 7 and 18 (over 140 million) are severely educationally deprived - they have never been to school.

Shelter ]

Sanitation ] Physical Capital Items

Water ]


Food ]

Health ] Human Capital Items

Education ]

The severe deprivations of basic human need which affect the greatest number of children are ‘physical capital’ problems - deprivation of shelter, water and sanitation.Whilst fewer children suffer from deprivations of ‘human capital’ – health, education and nutrition, most of the world’s anti-poverty policies are aimed at improving that human capital, particularly in urban areas