Highly Vulnerable Children
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What is Poverty?

Poverty is a complex problem. The most widely held definition of poverty measures poverty in economic terms.

The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 a day, or about $700 per year, which puts 10 percent of the world’s population below the global poverty line. But global poverty has ensnared billions more than this 10 percent.

Half of the world’s population live on less than $2.50 a day, another widely accepted poverty line, albeit one considerably different than in the United States.

The poverty threshold for a family of four in the United States is around $25,000 a year. That is more than 36 times what a family of four living in absolute poverty in a low-income country survives on. But poverty is much more than a lack of money.

Poverty is not strictly about measuring household income, income inequality, or the need for economic growth. Poverty changes everything about a person’s life experience. It impacts all of a person's basic needs and touches every aspect of his or her existence.

Poverty is daily hunger, child malnutrition, a lack of access to clean water, shelter, and health care, little or no opportunity to go to school or learn a trade, constant fear for the future and increased risk of exploitation and abuse.

27
OF THE WORLD'S POOREST COUNTRIES
are in Sub-saharan Africa1

1 in 3
AFRICANS
live below the global poverty line2

70%
OF THE WORLD'S POOREST PEOPLE
live in Africa2

Source: The Brookings Institution

Poverty is a Lack of Hope

Poor people often lack hope for the future because they live in a lie. The lie of poverty, that is reinforced day-in and day-out is, “You don’t matter. You’re worthless.”

Whether in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda or Zambia, the poor in the world's poorest countries live in hopelessness...every day, in multiple ways.

Imagine not being able to provide enough food for your children or pay for a hospital visit when a child is sick or injured. Imagine the guilt, grief, and despair.

The poor are helpless in the face of war and natural disasters. When natural disasters and conflict occur, the poor suffer the most. They are unprotected, uncared for, and unnoticed.

Overcrowded urban areas where millions of the poor live in slum conditions increase the risk of disease and increase the death toll when conflict and war erupt or an environmental disaster hits.

Poverty often causes the poor to put pressure on their environment, and in turn the environment contributes to the suffering the poor endure.

Damage to the natural environment in which the poor live increases the impact floods and other natural disasters have. But "natural disasters" are as much a result of poor government, bad infrastructure, population density, rampant population growth and unequal living conditions as anything else. Extreme poverty helps create the disaster.

Limited access to sanitation and clean water lead to poor hygiene practices and more disease, which hinder the ability of the poor to work or attend school. And when someone more powerful takes advantage of them, from withholding wages or payments to trafficking a child, the poor are unable to pursue justice, for they lack the money and connections to do so.

Although girls are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking, exploitation does not discriminate based on gender. All of the world's poor are targets.

Despite this harsh reality, it's the feeling that you don’t matter, like your life will never get better, that is the most crushing and demoralizing aspect of poverty. It’s also why poverty reduction efforts and programs to lower the poverty rate must be holistic, reaching into every aspect of the human experience.

The Poverty Wheel and the World's Poor

To understand the many ways poverty destroys hope and permeates every aspect of life, consider the analogy of a bicycle wheel.

The hub of the wheel represents a life of absolute poverty, an existence where surviving from one day to the next is never a guarantee.

The spokes of the wheel represent the six types of poverty: social, educational, health, spiritual, environmental, and economic. Living in absolute poverty means experiencing lack in all of these areas, and it's why we serve the children in our programs holistically.

A road in Burkina Faso with many people riding bikes

How Many Countries in Africa are in Poverty?

How Many Countries in Sub-saharan Africa are in Poverty?

According to the World Data Lab, 42 African countries are in poverty, and in 16 of those countries, the poverty rate is rising.

Twenty-seven of the world’s 28 poorest countries are in Sub-saharan Africa.1 Each of these countries has a poverty rate of over 30 percent1.

While the absolute number of people living in global poverty has decreased over the last several decades, in Sub-saharan Africa, the number has increased, and substantially so.

In 1990, 278 million people in Sub-saharan Africa lived in poverty. By 2015, that number had grown to 413 million, and it’s now approaching 440 million.

Hunger in Africa is also on the rise. Two hundred fifty-six million Africans are hungry, an increase of 44 million since 2014.3

How is Poverty Measured in Africa?

Poverty in Africa, like elsewhere, is typically measured in economic terms. The standard measure is the World Bank's definition of living on less than $1.90 per day. But as we've mentioned, economics cannot be the sole measure and determinant of poverty.

The World Bank recognizes that poverty is hunger, lack of shelter, being sick and not being able to see a doctor, not having access to school, not knowing how to read, not having a job, fearing for the future, losing a child to a curable illness, and living one day at a time. It also understands that poverty is powerlessness and lack of representation and freedom.

Because this broader measure of poverty expands upon the economic definition of poverty, the World Bank developed indicators to assess the non-income dimensions of poverty. The indicators include education, health, access to social services, vulnerability, social exclusion, and access to social capital.

An a group of Rwandan women holding babies in their arms

What are the Causes of Poverty in Africa?

One in three Africans live below the global poverty line.2 They make up 70 percent of the global poor, and their numbers are rising.2 Despite the overwhelming number of extremely poor people in Africa, the causes of poverty on the continent are no different than the causes of poverty around the world. They can be grouped into two primary categories—external or cultural factors and internal elements.

External factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Lack of shelter
  • Limited access to clean water resources
  • Food insecurity
  • Lack of access to health care
  • Government corruption
  • Poor infrastructure
  • Limited or dwindling natural resources

The internal elements that contribute to poverty are intangible and can include, among many possibilities, deficiencies in:

  • Knowledge
  • Aspiration
  • Diligence
  • Values
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-esteem

When you’ve never seen someone escape a life of poverty, you have no reason to believe that escape is possible. Poverty becomes your lot in life and part of your identity.

You can’t imagine a better future because you’ve never seen one, or if you have, it’s a future for other people, not a future for someone like you.

This lack of hope keeps people in poverty even when an opportunity that could change their lives presents itself.

What Causes Poverty in Sub-saharan Africa?

While the root causes of poverty in Sub-saharan Africa are not different from the causes of poverty anywhere else, poverty has been growing in Sub-saharan Africa due to the long-term impacts of external factors like war, genocide, famine, and land availability. Unless all the factors are addressed, the cycle of poverty in Sub-saharan Africa will gain momentum and continue grow, as each component of poverty reinforces the others.

How Can I Help Reduce Poverty in Africa?

Breaking the cycle of poverty involves a holistic approach to development. It involves providing food and access to clean water, health care and education. It also involves creating healthy environments where children can grow and learn in safety, places where they know they are being cared for and protected. This protection is especially critical in areas where children are so often taken advantage of.

Financial assistance is part of the solution, but money alone will not solve the problem. Since poverty affects every aspect of a person’s existence, ending poverty requires addressing all the different ways that poverty has told its victims, “You are helpless, and you don’t matter.”

Reducing poverty in Africa requires holistic support addressing everything from social development and physical health, to education and vocational training, protection and justice for victims of abuse, and economic and agricultural productivity.

We offer several ways to support holistic care for African children in poverty, including: sponsoring a child in Africa or donating to one of our many initiatives benefiting poor children in Africa and around the world.

A group of children sitting at their desks in a classroom in Ethiopia

Helping Vulnerable Children in Africa

According to the International Labor Organization, Africa has the largest number of child laborers in the world. More than 72 million children are estimated to be involved in child labor in Africa, and 31.5 million of these children are actively engaged in work that is considered hazardous or dangerous.4

Our Highly Vulnerable Children Fund helps support and protect children vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, homelessness and trafficking—regardless of whether they are in Africa, Asia, South America or Central America.

By offering holistic care and providing safe places to study, play, and be a child, our frontline church partners help protect vulnerable children. Your tax-deductible donation to our Highly Vulnerable Children Fund helps fight the damaging effects of poverty on children by providing benefits that supplement our Child Sponsorship Program, such as: foster care, trauma counseling, safe shelter, trafficking prevention awareness and legal resources to help find missing children.

Make a donation today!

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1 Patel, Nirav. "Figure of the Week: Understanding Poverty in Africa." Brookings, Brookings, 21 Nov. 2018, www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2018/11/21/figure-of-the-week-understanding-poverty-in-africa/.

2 Hamel, Kristofer, et al. "Poverty in Africa Is Now Falling-but Not Fast Enough." Brookings, Brookings, 28 Mar. 2019, www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2019/03/28/poverty-in-africa-is-now-falling-but-not-fast-enough/.

3 FAO, ECA and AUC. 2020. Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2019. Accra. https://doi.org/10.4060/CA7343EN

4 "Child Labour in Africa (IPEC)." Child Labour in Africa (IPEC), www.ilo.org/ipec/Regionsandcountries/Africa/lang--en/index.htm.