How Poverty Affects the Health of Children

Poverty is described as the economic state that does not allow provision of basic child and family needs such as housing, clothing and adequate food. As a result of poverty, education, development and health of a child is affected. For a child to grow and develop normally, good nutrition which comprises of a balanced diet and essential elements should be provided. It is important to note that, child poverty has increased over the years because of the following reasons:

  • Increased number of single parents or female-headed families
  • Decrease in value of income transfer programs
  • Decrease in real value of wages earned by lower educated workers

Expansion of Technology and information economy has excluded people with low education backgrounds making them find alternative sources of income which might not support their families. Families that lack head of the family are usually poor even if the mother works because the father is a great supporter and wage earner in the family. Poverty has the following health impacts to children:

Early pregnancies:

As a result of poverty, young girls tend to indulge in sex for money (prostitution) to be able to support their families or themselves. In some countries, these girls are pushed to indulge into such activities by their parents having no other alternative. Therefore, they end up engaging in sex for money and since they are inexperienced, they are exploited by men and end up becoming pregnant.

In addition to getting pregnant, these girls are at a risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) e.g. chlamydia, HIV/AIDS etc. which might result to death after a period of time. However, if they end up getting pregnant, aborting the fetus remains as the best option to most of them since they cannot be able to support the child. This further exposes them to possible death!

Poverty affects development of the child:

For a child to develop normally, he or she should be able to have a balanced diet which most poor children cannot get. Brain and body development is dependent on certain minerals elements which can only be found in specific types of meals. Research shows that, children living in constant poverty have the worst cognitive development compared to children living from a higher socio-economic background. Therefore, poor children end up participating in social, celebratory activities and leisure which can negatively impact their health and development e.g. taking drugs. In some instances, being poor makes a child poor in decision making although some end up being challenged by poverty and they work hard to help their families.

As a result of poverty, children suffer from kwashiorkor or marasmus due to poor nutrition. Kwashiorkor is a malnutrition disease which is caused by lack of proteins in a child’s diet while marasmus results from lack of food leading to emaciation. These malnutrition diseases affect development and health of a child with possible death after a period of time. Poverty can be manifested by lack of access to healthy foods and environment which can predispose a child to chronic conditions such as asthma, pneumonia and anaemia.

Exposure to contaminants:

Since poor children live in slums or in poor localities, they get exposed to contaminants among the heavy metals and toxic waste dumps. Some of these children seek for means to feed themselves or their families by selling plastics or scrap metals which they retrieve from damp sites. Having no protective gear to retrieve these materials, these children exposes themselves to harmful waste materials which might affect their health. Heavy metals and other toxic wastes may not have abrupt effects on the child but with time, the effects may be seen e.g. in brain development and chronic infections.

It is evident that poverty affects children as much as it affects their parents. However, since children are young and hence developing, they are really affected by poverty especially health wise. It is important to note that, when a child’s development is affected, it is not possible to remedy the problem in future e.g. stunted growth and brain development. As a result of poverty, children with low birth weight are born due to malnutrition of the parents, these children have lower life expectancy rate although some die at birth. It is not easy to eradicate poverty completely but the use of the right measures could help reduce effects of poverty and raise living standards.

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