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Saturday Feature
Poverty stunts growth of children

          Poverty is considered among three major threats to the childhood reality. It is the root of high rates of child morbidity and mortality, and also a root cause of poverty when they become adults. Children living in poverty are deprived of many of their rights, such as survival, health, nutrition, education, participation and protection from harm, exploitation and discrimination. This deprivation affects their physical and mental growth and the effect is transmitted from one generation to another. Without breaking this generational cycle, no development can be enjoyed and this needs to be done by alleviating poverty in children.
In Bangladesh, poverty still remains endemic and it puts burden especially on women and children. Different surveys show that Bangladesh has made significant progress in the socioeconomic sector including microeconomics, but the burden of poverty is continuing to fall disproportionately on women and children. Despite significant progress in reduction of childhood death and diseases due to efforts like immunisation, death of under-five children still occurs in significant numbers due to neonatal and perinatal causes in the country. Pneumonia, diarrhoea as well as nutrition-related cause of low birth weight are still considered major causes of death of under-five children which have a link with the poverty level of their parents. A new finding also shows a low state of children rights. That means they lack protection and as such it leads to injuries to and accidents including drowning of children. Failure to provide proper childcare, high maternal mortality rate and quality education and information speaks of a poor state of poverty alleviation measures.
According to Progotir Pathey 2003, a recent publication of UNICEF and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), incidence of poverty remains as high as 44.4 per cent and 20 per cent of the poor live under the condition of hardcore poverty. Among the children population of 48 million, 30 per cent infants are stillborn with low birth weight of 2500g and 48 per cent children of under-5 group are moderate to severe underweight. Neonatal and perinatal causes contribute to 48 per cent of all under-5 deaths, which are influenced by low rate of institutional deliveries, low attendance of deliveries by skilled personnel and low utilisation of antenatal care.
Mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC), the measurement to determine the prevalence of severe malnutrition, is 3.3 per cent among boys but it is 5.5 per cent in the case of girls. This nutritional status, however, differs significantly in rural and urban areas as well as divisional location for having link with poverty. Urban poverty which is rising also threatened the nutritional status of slum children.
The UNICEF statistics showed that 41 per cent working children work outside the household for income for more than 8 hours and 40 per cent children between 4 and 7 hours daily. Poverty tears the children away from the care of their parents and leaves them to live with relative or non-relatives till adolescent. There are five million working children in Bangladesh. Of them 1.1 million boys and 0.4 million girls work in urban areas.
In the case of education, poverty is the cause behind the failure to bring cent per cent children under compulsory primary education. Although the net enrolment rates achieved is 81 per cent for boys and 84 per cent for girls, the rest could not be enrolled for reasons like poverty. Also at least one third of those who enter primary education do not complete the primary education which have some sort of link with the poverty of their parents. In urban slums, more than 30 per cent school age children have never enrolled in any school.
The experts found that there are major gaps in the concept and knowledge of early childhood development and activities supporting young children's mental development. Nowadays, early childhood development still remains a matter for the better-off people in the urban areas. Only about a half, who complete primary school, are thought to achieve a minimum basic education criteria. School enrolment rates fall drastically from primary to secondary level.
UN statistics say that over one billion children are severely deprived of at least the essential goods and services they need to survive, grow and develop in the world. Millions of children are severely deprived of nutrition, water, sanitation facilities, etc.
In Bangladesh, children of 49.8 per cent population who live in poverty, are in a vulnerable state and need to nurture with special attention for their development physically and mentally so that the generation cycle can be broken. Now the responsibility lies with all including development activists and government to work seriously in this regard for fulfilling a number of commitments made in national and international fora including Convention on the Rights of the Children. It is also necessary to improve the rank in the Human Development Report where Bangladesh's ranking in term of human poverty was 138th among 175 last year, most importantly to meet the millennium development goals.
An FE article


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