Relationships have been established between poverty and high infant mortality rates, high child morbidity, wide-spread prevalence of protein-calorie malnutrition, and high rates of school abandonment. For those children faced with the reality of poverty, the consequences of their situation may become the factors that maintain and perpetuate it; they may even result in counteracting a child's mental development. Poor children grow up in conditions of poor health and malnutrition which affect their overall behaviour: reaction to stimuli is weakened, as is their mental activity, ability to concentrate, natural curiosity, and learning motivation. The youngest children are disproportionately exposed to the hazards of malnutrition, polluted water and disease.
The worst effects of economic tightening in the industrialized world are being passed on, often multiplied many times over, to the poorest nations, and within these nations, it is the poor, and especially their children, who are the hardest hit. In other words, the weakest members of the human race – young children in poor countries – are the ones left to bear the heaviest burden.
[Developing countries] Selective evidence suggests that in most countries significant sections of the children are suffering as one of the consequences of recent economic setbacks. For example, data from Zambia's poorer northern regions indicate that there has been a decline in height-for-age in all age categories up to 15 years old. Latin America had a total of 65 million children under six years of age in 1980. Of these, 35 million lived in poverty. By the end of the century the number will be 97 million, of whom 51 million will be poverty-stricken. The number of children treated for severe malnutrition in Costa Rica doubled in three years, while in the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil, there is a pattern of increasing low birth weight babies as well as a significant increase in the number of children given up by their parents because of poverty.
[Industrialized countries] The number of children living in poverty in the UK has tripled in the past 20 years. In 1948 there were 273,320 children in families on national assistance, which trebled to 923,000 children in families on supplementary benefits in 1979, and trebled again to 2,970,000 children in families on income support in 1993.
In the USA poverty among children under 6 increased from 18% in 1975 to 25% in 1994. The proportion of children under 18 living in poverty in the US rose from 20.6% to 21.8% from 1990 to 1991. More than 7 million American children have no health insurance. Some 100,000 are homeless on any given night of the year.