Monday, December 10, 2012

Inequality deprives children their access to health, education and better life

More and more reports, published recently, indicate that the world is witnessing surge in inequality, both income and wealth, barring a few Latin American countries (such as Brazil). Yet inequality has been termed as necessary fallout of economic growth. According to conventional economics, rise in inequality provide incentives to those who are more capable of managing the resources. It is the fittest (in this case- capitalist) who survives in this race.

However, a lesser known report entitled Born Equal: How reducing inequality could give our children a better future (2012), which has been released recently by Save the Children shows that growing gaps between the richest and the poorest children actually threatens children’s health and development. After studying 32 countries, the report demonstrates that children born into the richest households have access to 35 times the resources of the poorest. Children born in rich households get better healthcare, more nutritious food and improved access to school. Such children do not have to start work at an early age. Thus, they are less likely to become child labourers. The report has, therefore, stressed the need for addressing inequality so as to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDGs and to deliver the promise to eradicate extreme global poverty.

While commenting on India, the report mentions that rise in inequality has been quite stark because in 2002 India had four billionaires ($US), which grew to 55 presently. Factors like the country where one is born, one’s skin colour, one’s gender, wealth of one’s parents and other such dimensions determine to a large extent a person’s future and the quality of life s/he would live. A person born as a dalit in India will be twice as likely to live one's entire life in poverty. Dropout rates among children in the scheduled tribe and scheduled caste categories are substantially higher. Save the Children report alleges that India has witnessed reductions in social spending overtime.

Key findings of Save the Children report:

  • Gini coefficient [which takes a value of 1 (or 100 on the percentile scale) for perfect inequality and 0 for perfect equality] increased from 32.0 percent in 1980 (or earliest available) to 36.8 percent in 2012 (or latest available) in India. On the contrary, in Brazil, Gini coefficient declined from 55.3 percent in 1980 (or earliest available) to 52.0 percent in 2012 (or latest available).

  • India and China, home to huge numbers of the world’s poor, are increasingly sheltering some of the world’s richest people. In 2002, India was home to four billionaires ($US); presently the number is 55. In 2002, China claimed only one billionaire. In Forbes’ 2012 survey China recorded 115–more than Germany, France and Japan combined.

  • In India, while the country’s average poverty rates were falling in the 2000s, in the state of Orissa poverty increased from 41% to 50%; absolute poverty among lower castes in Orissa increased during that decade from 57% to 74%.

  • In India, recent census figures reveal that the sex ratio dropped to 914 females per 1,000 males–the lowest since India attained independence in 1947. In China, while aggregate data show that the influence of women in the household has significantly improved over the past 20 years, there has been little progress in terms of women’s influence in the workplace or in the political sphere.

  • In India, the worst 25 districts in terms of infant mortality (as per the 2011 census) are concentrated across three states–Assam, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Not surprisingly, these states are amongst the poorest in terms of per capita SDP, ranking 27, 30 and 28 respectively out of 30 states in the state domestic product data available for 2009–10.

  • India’s income inequality, meanwhile, has been shown to result in higher levels of both undernutrition and obesity in children. Subramanian et al show that state level income inequality was strongly associated with the levels of Body Mass Index (BMI). A change of one standard deviation of the Gini coefficient (which amounts roughly to a 3% change) increased the risk of being underweight by 19% and the risk of being obese by 21%, depending on the direction of change. The study concluded that the simultaneous existence of both undernutrition and overnutrition suggests the blame lies with inequality (a skewed distribution of food), rather than general poverty (an overall shortage).

  • Moving from targeting towards more universal systems–for example, with India’s food distribution system and Integrated Child Development Scheme–would be likely to improve reach and impact on inequality.

  • In 1990, the vast majority–93%–of people in poverty in the world lived in low-income countries. Today, despite the fact that inequalities between countries remain high, more than 70% of the world’s poorest people–up to a billion–live in middle-income countries.

  • In 2011 under-five mortality stood at 6.9 million–down from 12 million in 1990. Although we are only half way to reaching the child mortality goal of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the rate of progress to reduce under-five child deaths more than doubled in the 2000s.


Born Equal: How reducing inequality could give our children a better future (2012), Save the Children,

Born Equal? How reducing inequality could give our children a better future by Núria Molina-Gallart, 1 November, 2012,

The threat of inequality to children by Robbie Lawrence, 23 November, 2012,

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