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Teaching child poverty – opposing views and perspectives

September 23, 2010


Last week, I was teaching in the International Interdisciplinary Course Children’s Rights in a Globalized World: from Principles to Practice in Antwerp, Belgium. It is a two-week course for practitioners and professionals in the field of children’s rights providing an introduction into a range of children’s rights issues, implementation strategies and methodologies and various topical issues. One of these topics was Child Poverty, on which I held a lecture and workshop. My co-lecturer was Dr. Francine Mestrum from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, who also presented a separate lecture and jointly convened the workshop. Interestingly, teaching on the topic of child poverty proved to provoke more opposing views and thoughts than many would suspect. Or that I would have expected, for that matter. The main message of my lecture was that (child) poverty measurement involves many different choices; choices about the purpose of the measure (i.e. do we wish to compare outcomes across countries or to consider a specific context in detail), the conceptual framework (i.e. is poverty only about money or about more than that?), domains and indicators (i.e. is the availability of toys an appropriate indicator?) etcetera. And that all these choices influence the final picture we draw about poverty. In other words, as users of these pictures and poverty estimates, we need to be very wary of how these results were produced and that outcomes are likely to have been different when different choices had been made. So far, Francine and I agreed. But my other message was that child poverty is not all about money: poverty in terms of lack of income does not identify children that might be poor or deprived in other areas such as education, health and housing. This is based on findings from my own research as well as from other scholars. Francine, however, considers poverty as an inherently monetary issue with the only thing in common between poor people is the lack of money. Rather than manifestations of poverty, a lack of education or nutrition are then considered as a cause and/or consequence of poverty, leaving us with the question: what causes what? Neither of these two views or right or wrong. Nevertheless, I would argue that considering deprivations in areas of well-being other than that of income or money disregards their intrinsic importance for children. Rather than considering a sufficient level of income as a desirable outcome of events, I would argue, along with many others amongst which Amartya Sen, that money is merely instrumental and supportive of reaching well-being in a wide range of dimensions.

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