Child poverty

photo provided by Children First Now

Poverty and inequality have a long-standing, well-studied relationship with a myriad of poor outcomes for child development and growth (1). While Iran is a very wealthy nation given its many valuable natural resources, measures of its economic central tendencies such as GNP per capita obscure important economic inequalities across Iranian households, where most children reside. In this section, we describe the levels and trends in several indicators related to child poverty (extreme poverty, consumption by poorest quintile, unemployment, child nutritional status). In most instances, these indicators correlate with those used to track progress for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

It must be noted that most data used to track the MDGs are available only as national-level averages. They are not easily available disaggregated by province, ethnicity, or other relevant strata (though if we obtain such data in the future we will update this text and provide additional analysis). Such national-level indicators obscure important sub-national variations in poverty and inequality. It was possible, however, to obtain province-level data for child undernutrition.

We also include a brief discussion of reasons for poverty and significant inequality in a wealthy country, focusing primarily on the effects of corruption and poorly implemented international economic sanctions.

Percentage of households living in extreme poverty
Consumption by poorest quintile

Child nutritional status: stunting
A key indicator of the impact of poverty on children is children’s physiological ability to grow and develop according to international growth standards. Although the target indicator for undernutrition for the first Millennium Development Goal is prevalence of underweight among children age 0-4, we present here instead the prevalence of stunting in the Islamic Republic of Iran, disaggregated by the child’s region of residence, in order to show the glaring regional disparities in child growth and well being (Figure 1). Stunting is a better measure of a child’s overall health than underweight because stunting represents the cumulative effects of a child’s experience of undernutrition and disease (which are interrelated with each other and also with poverty), while underweight may only reflect a child’s short-term nutritional status (i.e., a child can temporarily be underweight if the child is experiencing a bout of diarrhea, but once the diarrhea has passed, the child will resume normal weight; not so with stunting). Stunting reflects a long-term, pathological state of undernutrition (WHO 1995, Chapter 5, p177).

Figure 1 Percentage of children age 0-4 who are stunted (-2SD), by province, Iran 1998 (click to enlarge)

Although the overall national prevalence of stunting among children age 0-4 is 15 percent (see Figure 2), Figure 1 indicates that there are wide regional disparities in the prevalence of stunting. In eight provinces, prevalence of stunting is 20 percent or higher, with children in Sistan and Baluchestan at highest risk: two fifths of children in this region are stunted. A full quarter of children age 0-4 are stunted in Kohguiluye and Bouyerahmai. Only three provinces have a prevalence of stunting that is less than 10 percent: Tehran, Mazandaran & Gilan.

Unfortunately, it was not possible to find anthropometric data disaggregated by ethnic group including the nomadic minorities (of which there are two major groups: Qashqai Turks and Bakhtiari Lors). These should be given special attention as they do not share the same habits and way of life with others. Additionally, there is the situation of Afghan refugees in Iran, who live under much more inhumane conditions compared to the rest of the population. It is likely that if it had been possible to disaggregate the refugee from the non-refugee population, the prevalence of stunting in Khorasan, a very rich region, would have been closer to Tehran: Khorasan has a long border with Afghanistan and refugees are therefore likely to be overrepresented in that region.

Figure 2 simply shows a cross-national comparison of prevalence of stunting (-2SD) for selected countries. It gives an idea of the position of Iran relative to other countries, in terms of the prevalence of stunting. The countries that are within three percentage points of Iran in this chart include Colombia, Jordan, Armenia, Senegal, Egypt and Morocco. Iran’s gross national income (GNI) per capita, using the purchasing power parity (PPP) method of calculation, is $10,840 in 2008 dollars. Corresponding GNI per capita (PPP) for the other countries are as follows: Colombia ($8,510), Jordan ($5,530), Armenia ($6,310), Senegal ($1,760), Egypt ($5,460) and Morocco ($4,330). Thus, it is possible to observe that Iran’s per person wealth is about twice as high as all of the other countries with similar levels of stunting except for Colombia. Because national levels of stunting tend to be correlated with national wealth (Brinkman, Drukker & Slot 1997, p15), there remains a question as to why wealthy Iran exhibits a prevalence of stunting that is similar to those levels in much poorer nations.

Figure 2 Percentage of children age 0-4 who are stunted (-2SD), for selected countries (click to enlarge)

Why is there child poverty and undernutrition in Iran?
Iran has a tremendous wealth of natural and human resources. It controls the world’s second largest oil reserves and has a highly educated, technologically savvy population. Such wealth would seem incompatible with current levels of extreme poverty and child undernutrition in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We would like to try to address this question here in a rigorous fashion, though the issues are complex and dynamic. In order to have more room to discuss freely, this topic has a page dedicated to exploring the question of why there should be child poverty and undernutrition in Iran.

Consequences of child poverty
Children who survive in poverty suffer a wide range of poor outcomes, many of which are not reversible in later years. Poor children are more likely to be undernourished. If a toddler’s stunting has not been improved by the age of two, the child’s growth is unlikely to catch up to what it should have been even if nutritional problems are corrected (Handa and Peterman 2009). Poverty and its associated living conditions expose children to disease through unclean water and poor sanitation. Poor children are at higher risk than other children of being forced into child labor, child trafficking and/or prostitution.

Although many poor countries continue to fight a difficult battle against poverty, the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be considered a poor country. Rather, the distribution of national wealth is inequitable, resulting in good outcomes for the favored elements of Iranian society, and resulting in destitute conditions for those not favored, particularly ethnic and religious minorities.

Summary and recommendations
Needs contributions

(1) For a concise annotated bibliography of scientific resources on this subject, please see the following (free full text available): Gwatkin DR. 2007. Ten best resources on … health equity. Health Policy and Planning 2007 22(5):348-351; doi:10.1093/heapol/czm028

excerpted from the work of naseh andarzgoo

International Standards:
The first Millennium Development Goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

Target 1.A: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day
1.1 Proportion of population below $1 (PPP) per day a*
1.2 Poverty gap ratio
1.3 Share of poorest quintile in national consumption

Target 1.B: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
1.4 Growth rate of GDP per person employed
1.5 Employment-to-population ratio
1.6 Proportion of employed people living below $1 (PPP) per day
1.7 Proportion of own-account and contributing family workers in total employment

Target 1.C: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
1.8 Prevalence of underweight children under-five years of age
1.9 Proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption


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