In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Child Poverty, Rights, and Well-being

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Global Poverty
  • Children’s Rights
  • Education
  • Child Care and Early Childhood Education

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Childhood Studies Child Poverty, Rights, and Well-being
Valerie Polakow, Syprose Owiti
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0134


Child poverty constitutes a global crisis with far-reaching implications for children’s psychosocial, cognitive, and physical development, educational achievement, and future citizenship. Child poverty must also be understood in the broader context of children’s rights, women’s poverty and women’s rights and examined in terms of the impact of globalization and neoliberal policies on the lives of children and their families in both poor and wealthy nations. The discourses of poverty, the construction of the global poor, how poverty is defined and measured, and its multiple meanings shape both policy and practices in both national and international contexts. Human rights are inextricably bound to poverty as growing inequality and the politics of distribution have led to vast circles of impoverishment. Loss of jobs, loss of health care, loss of land, lack of access to clean water and food, environmental degradation, and exploitation of labor and natural resources—all contribute in no small measure to dispossession and displacement.

General Overviews

Situating child poverty in a global context draws on interdisciplinary sources that cover globalization, neoliberalism, resource redistribution, citizenship, human rights, and philosophical questions about what it means to be fully human. Unlike traditional economic studies that analyze poverty in monetary terms as a deprivation of means, Sen 1999 argues that poverty must also be understood as multidimensional, incorporating human rights, human freedom, well-being, and the capacity for human functioning and human capabilities. Nussbaum 2011, building on earlier work (see Nussbaum 2000, cited under Families in Poverty), argues for a capabilities approach that emphasizes human dignity and opportunity within a framework of social and gender justice and embodies a set of political entitlements and central capabilities that society should nurture and support on behalf of its citizens. Stiglitz 2002 points to the devastating impacts of globalization on the world’s poorest communities and questions who benefits from the globalization agenda. He argues that the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization championed market supremacy with high costs to developing nations; instead, global governance should be democratized promoting sustainable equitable growth with a human face. Harvey 2005 interrogates the inherent contradictions of democratic governance with its attendant political and civic participation, as well as the hegemonic impacts of neoliberalism that thrive best under governance by experts and elites. Key tenets of neoliberalism are analyzed in relation to global inequality, poverty, and the diminution of the role of government and the promotion of the public good. Pogge 2007 challenges readers to consider the moral and ethical implications and the “positive duties” that ensue in a global world order where severe poverty and extreme inequality persist. Authors raise fundamental questions about poverty as a violation of human rights, justice, and the right to resistance. Lister 2004 addresses poverty, social exclusion, and social policy. The author draws on her experience as a member of the UK Child Care Action Group to address participation and voice as essential to understanding poverty within a human rights framework that emphasizes citizenship and agency. She addresses material and nonmaterial definitions of poverty, analyzes global structural inequalities and the politics of representation that create objectification and “othering,” and argues for a politics of respect, recognition, and redistribution. Public intellectual Tony Judt’s volume of essays (Judt 2010) raises penetrating questions about what he terms “private affluence and public squalor,” and he suggests a revisioning of social democracy for the 21st century that fosters greater equality and social justice.

  • Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    A classic primer on neoliberalism that focuses on the G-7 countries with particular focus on the US and China and how globalization has promoted the upward distribution of wealth. The key tenets of market supremacy, deregulation, reduction of the role of the state, privatization, free trade and corporate freedoms are analyzed in relation to inequality and the role of democratic governance.

  • Judt, Tony. Ill Fares the Land. New York: Penguin, 2010.

    A volume of essays that raises provocative questions about the consequences of deregulation and the decreased role of the state in protecting and promoting the public good in Europe and the United States. Judt suggests a critical appraisal of growing inequality and poverty and argues for a rethinking and reframing of social democracy to promote social and economic justice.

  • Lister, Ruth. Poverty. Cambridge, MA: Polity, 2004.

    Critical analysis of poverty, including definitions, an analysis of structural inequality, race, and the feminization of poverty as well as social exclusion and agency. Reviews both methodological and conceptual frameworks, income-based and capabilities perspectives, and argues for participant-insider voices and empowerment within a human rights framework.

  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674061200

    Nussbaum challenges the widely held assumption that measuring a country’s well-being using the GDP approach permits asset-rich countries with vast inequalities to emerge as successful. She argues for a capabilities approach that emphasizes what people are “able to do and to be” and that focuses on freedom, choice, and human dignity, and holds governments responsible for the provision of a minimum social threshold.

  • Pogge, Thomas, ed. Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Part of a UNESCO human rights project on global poverty, focusing on the severe inequalities among affluent and poor countries. The edited volume draws on interdisciplinary perspectives that focus on the meaning of acute poverty, oppression, loss of dignity and autonomy, justice, rights, collective responsibilities, and resistance.

  • Sen, Amartya Kumar. Commodities and Capabilities. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    Sen critiques traditional utilitarian economic models and views poverty not only as a deprivation of means but as a deprivation of human capabilities. He argues for a multidimensional human development approach that emphasizes fundamental resources such as employment, food, and housing as well as human choice and freedom. He advocates for a “capabilities approach” in international development and public policy evaluation.

  • Stiglitz, Joseph E. Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

    Globalization and its attendant free-market ideologies have exacerbated the impoverishment of the global poor, and Stiglitz argues that structural adjustment policies must be reformed. The problem is not globalization per se, but how it has been managed, serving the interests of advanced industrialized societies. Argues that sustainable equitable development with a democratized global governance should be promoted.

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