Family Matters

Universal Children’s Day: Poor Kids Speak

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Saturday, Nov. 20, is Universal Children’s Day, as declared by the United Nations, and a new survey of children illuminates the wants and needs of kids living in poverty. The Small Voices, Big Dreams survey questioned children ages 10 to 12 in 30 countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas. Conducted by ChildFund Alliance, which is comprised of global child development organizations, the survey found that one in three children goes to bed hungry at least once a week; more than 25% spend half of every day working, including household chores and other work but not counting school or homework.

Regardless of where they live, the children spoke of bootstrapping themselves up through education. In the fortunate yet unlikely event they end up as president of their country, 57% said they would make sure to offer all children an education, improve existing schools and build more.  “If I were the president of India,” responds one Indian child, “I would provide good education and study materials such as pen, copies, pencils, uniforms, etc. to children.” (Of U.S. kids, 31% said education would be their top presidential priority. Perhaps, say those who’ve analyzed the study, the lower number doesn’t indicate a lack of interest in education but acknowledgement that U.S. children can attend school for free.) (More on Photos: Summer Programs Keep Kids’ Minds Sharp)

What do you need most, the children were asked; one in three answered food, with 45% saying they’d spend a spare dollar on food or water. One motherless child from Cape Verde said, “I need food. My father is a fisherman, but he can’t get enough money to buy food.”

“This survey serves to amplify [children’s] voices so that we can direct our work in the most appropriate way,” said Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO of ChildFund International, the U.S. member of the global alliance.  In countries such as Ecuador and Zambia, for example, ChildFund is trying to figure out how to enroll more children in school and keep them there longer. (More on Special Report: Health Care for the Uninsured)

Interestingly, when polled about fears, snakes took first place, followed by death and disease, then falling victim to war or violence.  “I am mostly afraid of death,” responded a Sierra Leone child. “I don’t want to dream of dead people. The muddy water…is dangerous for children because muddy water has germs.”

The survey was administered individually from July through September 2010 to about 100 children in 30 developing nations and 318 children in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. (More on Time.comThe Battle for Global Health)