Youth in Extreme Poverty

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Youth in Extreme Poverty: dimensions and policy implications with particular focus on South East Asia

Richard Curtain Professional Associate National Institute for Governance Curtain Consulting, Melbourne 2 November 2004

1. Introduction
The purpose of this paper is to present estimates of young people in poverty in the world, with particular reference to South East Asia. The paper also describes the efforts by countries in the latter region to overcome poverty among youth, both in terms of specific measures and as part of a more general strategy to reduce poverty. Reference is made to successful examples of pro poor interve ntions that help young people. However, attention is also given to the lessons that might be gained from efforts by governments and other agencies that have been less than successful. Many young people in the world experience extreme poverty but there is little published evidence to show this. This paper presents estimates of the headcount of young people in 2002 living on less than $US1 and $US2 a day. However, due to the limitations of this income-based measure of absolute poverty, I also present estimates of the number of young people in hunger, based on 1999-2001 data. Why is it important to identify young people as one group experiencing extreme poverty? Poverty in developing countries affects most residents in terms of diminished life chances. However, in working out where best to direct resources, it is important to understand who suffers more from the effects of poverty. National poverty reduction strategies, to be comprehensive, require reliable information about the prevalence of poverty among groups, such as young women or rural youth, who have been excluded from benefiting from economic growth in the past. It is a common assumption among economists that ‘a rising tide will float all boats’. In other words, that economic growth in itself reduces poverty. However, this view can be challenged as there is evidence that the relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction is not a simple or direct one. Countries that have reduced poverty as well as fostered economic growth have only done so through a concerted effort by governments and other stakeholders to direct resources to those identified as poorer than their peers. 1 1

Pernia, E, 2003, ‘Pro-poor Growth: what is it and how is it important? ERD Policy Brief No. 17, Economic Research Department, Asian Development Bank, Manila

Young people in extreme poverty – 2004

From the perspective of national public policy, this paper outlines the best ways to identify young people in poverty. Having access to reliable data also makes it much easier for young people themselves to participate in formulating or refining national poverty reduction strategies.

2. Defining terms
Young people The term youth has different meanings depending on the context. Official documents use the word to refer to both male and female young people. In other contexts, however, the word youth can refer to young males only. The word youth can also suggest a dependent state, like the word ‘child’ or ‘children’. For these reasons, I use the term ‘young people ’ because it is a less ambiguous term. The paper focuses on the 15 to 24 age group, simply because it is a widely accepted statistical convention. However, if we use a sociological definition of young people, it is much harder to specify a set age group. In relation to a transition stage from childhood to adulthood, the age at which this transition begins will vary greatly between societies and indeed within the same society. From the perspective of a critical stage in the lifecycle, the relevant age could be as low as 10 years of age (for street kids, for example) to high as mid to late 30s. The Youth Policy Act in India, for example, defines the group it addresses as ranging from age 15 to people aged up to 35! 2 The wider age span suggests that the process of...
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