New Era (Windhoek)

14 January 2013

Namibia: Child Poverty Rife in Namibia

Windhoek — One in three children in Namibia still grows up in households that are poor.

"Poverty has a deep and long-lasting impact on the lives and development of children in Namibia, especially their health and education. If poverty is not addressed at an early age it is being passed on from generation to generation," says Namibia's Statistician-General, Dr John Steytler. Dr Steytler commented towards the end of 2012 on the analysis of the 2009/2010 Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES) results.

The Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) for the first time compiled a child-focused analysis of the NHIES that provided an overview of the extent of child poverty across the country. The report analyses the family background of poor children and specifies which children are at the highest risk of growing up in poverty. "Monetary poverty often goes along with deprivations in other dimensions. The report therefore examines how many children are poor, not only in terms of their consumption, but also in terms of their access to durable goods, as well as water, sanitation and other utilities," explained Dr Steytler.

The report also shows that children are more likely to live in poverty than adults and poverty has long-term impacts on children, especially if poverty starts at an early age or persists over several years. These impacts include a higher risk of low birth weight and child mortality, stunting and poor educational outcomes. Poverty can also impact on children's emotional and psychosocial wellbeing as the daily struggle to make ends meet can increase stress and tension within a household.

"Child poverty in Namibia needs to be addressed immediately if the country is to achieve its Vision 2030," noted Dr Steytler.

An analysis of the effect of grants showed that the grant system as a whole, though still limited, is already making a notable contribution to ensuring that fewer Namibian children grow up in poverty.

Simulations indicated that the costs of expanding the child grant system are substantial, but not astronomical, and that such policy changes could substantially reduce child poverty.

"This would have beneficial effects that go far beyond simply assisting children to grow up in households with more money: it would improve child development, health and mental well-being, education and later also labour market prospects, and these benefits would be shared by a next generation," says the report.

The report concludes that there is a major trade-off that would be made though between a child grant that is better targeted at the poor and would therefore cost less, but would require strict implementation of a lower means-test - something that is difficult to accomplish in a country such as Namibia, where incomes are irregular and readily determinable and administrative capacity is constrained - as against a less targeted and therefore more expensive grant that reach some who are not poor, but that would be administratively much easier to implement.

The analysis of the report on child poverty in Namibia was compiled by the team from the NSA, with technical assistance in analysis and report writing by Professor Servaas van deer Berg, Dr Carlos da Maia and Cobus Burger from the University of Stellenbosch and Petra Hoelscher from UNICEF Namibia. Funding for the preparation of the report was made available by UNICEF.

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