Anu, a resident of Mumbai, has lived her whole life on the pavement. “We have been living here for so many years, our parents were here, we were born and raised here, we got married and had our kids here,” she says. Anu is one of the twenty million pavement dwellers that inhabit India.[1] These are the invisible urban poor people who are homeless due to financial problems, natural calamities, lack of employment opportunities, and most importantly, social stigma. The pavement dwellers are considered the poorest of the poor[2], deprived of basic amenities and rights. They, along with the other 736 million worldwide, are caught in the vicious cycle of poverty. 

  • The cycle of poverty is a phenomenon used often by economic scientists. It is a concept that illustrates how poverty causes poverty and traps people in poverty unless an external intervention is applied to break the cycle.
  • The cycle of poverty is a social phenomenon where impoverished families become imprisoned in that lifestyle for at least three generations. 
  • For example, an ultra-poor family with children will have little to eat, with no access to health facilities, among other things. As a result, the children would be malnourished, with no education or skill that might help them to improve their status. The children would soon turn adults, marry women matching their economic class, and have children. The children inherit this situation. We can apply the same concept to whole countries and larger economies. 

The grim reality

  • In the city of Punjab – India, two boys lost both of their parents on the same day to poverty. “When my dad was alive, he used to provide for us but now, I don’t know what to do…” the older of the two brothers explain with a heart-broken expression while getting interviewed by the media. Their father, Bahadur Singh, was a cotton farmer who became overburdened in debt and set himself on fire. The mother, Jinda, to save her husband caught on fire herself leaving the boys behind with no other immediate family. This story is just the tip of an iceberg. There are millions of other stories like this, stories that have destroyed homes and hopes of the people. 
  • Children growing up in abject poverty require special attention. They are affected by poverty in profoundly different ways and are at the risk of missing out on a good start in life. The cost of insufficient nutrition, a lack of early education and learning, and exposure to stress last a lifetime. They lead to stunted growth, limited productive output as adults, almost no to low levels of skills needed in life and work, and transmission of poverty down the generations. Neglecting this part of the social structure can be tragic and have an impact on human life and the potential needed for sustained economic prosperity in today’s world. 
  • According to a report published by World Bank Group and UNICEF,[3] children are most affected by extreme poverty – and by a wide margin. Based on the data collected from 89 countries representing just over 84 percent of the developing world’s population, almost 385 million children are living in ultra-poor households. 
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of children living in extreme poverty at just under 49 percent, and it also has the largest share of the world’s ultra-poor children, at over 51 percent. South Asia, on the other hand, has the second-highest share at nearly 36 percent. The most shocking part is that 30 percent of children living in extreme poverty live in India alone.

Action plan

The world is facing an ambitious target of ending extreme poverty by 2030. This new data will play a crucial role in planning various strategies to end extreme poverty by the desired the year of 2030. This data exposes a troubling reality that 385 million children are at risk of having inadequate education, healthcare, and nutrition, as well as being exploited and abused. The intervention of government, private agencies, the NGOs will play a crucial role in ending the cycle of poverty. Following are some of the measures that can be taken into notice to end poverty. [4]

  1. Ensure that child poverty is routinely measured and addressed at the national level as countries work towards both ending extreme poverty by 2030. 
  2. Make weaker-section inclusive policy decisions that will ensure a country’s economic growth benefits all of its citizens.
  3. Prioritize investments in education, health, nutrition, clean water, sanitation, and infrastructure that benefit the most impoverished children and that prevent people from falling back into poverty after setbacks like droughts, disease, or economic instability.
  4. The Two-Generation Approach eradicates poverty as well – it addresses the needs of parents and children to improve outcomes for the whole family. This approach is famous in many developed/developing countries.

To sum up…

We are living in a world that is characterized by an extraordinary level of technology development, economic growth, and financial resources. Despite these developments, poverty seems to be like a never-ending phenomenon. Poverty is no more an economic issue; it is a multidimensional phenomenon that encompasses a lack of both income and the fundamental capabilities to live in dignity, which must transform. The contributions, participation, and knowledge of people living in poverty must be valued, respected, and replicated in our efforts to build a sustainable and equitable world. Only then will there be true social justice for all.

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