One in four children – at least 29 million – across the Middle East and North Africa lives in poverty, according to the latest report of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which also points out that millions of the region’s young people live without accessible and quality health care, the most basic life necessities, nutritious food, quality safe water, sanitation or proper housing. The report is based on research in 11 countries and the outcome of the study was presented in Rabat, Morocco, ahead of the first-ever conference on child poverty in the region.
The UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Geert Cappelaere, commented that child poverty is not only about family income – it is much more than that – it includes access to quality education, healthcare, home and safe water. Mr. Cappelaere also stressed that the future generations could be left impoverished for at least three generations because “when children are deprived of the basics, they are at risk of getting trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.” Although UNICEF acknowledges that a lot of progress has been made in most countries to decrease poverty, the number of children living in poverty continues to be high, especially in conflict-hit countries.
The study also finds that lack of education is the main driver behind the key drivers of inequality and poverty for children. Children who live in households headed by uneducated family members are twice as likely to live in poverty. Moreover, one quarter of children aged 5 to 17 are not enrolled in school. About 50% of all children live in inadequate housing – either overcrowded or with poor flooring and almost 50% of them are not immunized or were born to mothers who were not given birth assistance or antenatal care.