A new analysis shows that more than 2 in 5 children are poor in many overlapping areas
In the past 15 years, Lesotho enjoyed a steady growth in GDP of around 3 per cent, and the national poverty rate has decreased from 56.6 per cent in 2002 to 49.7 per cent in 2017. Despite the overall improvement in national poverty, many Basotho children and adolescents are still living in multidimensional poverty.
Knowing which children are poor, where they live, and the make up of their household is important – not only to understand the situation, but also to design the right policies and implement the programmes that will address and reduce poverty for every child.
With this commitment in mind, UNICEF, together with the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics (BOS) in the Ministry of Development Planning conducted a "MODA" analysis for Lesotho.
MODA stands for Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis and is a specific tool that UNICEF developed so that we can go beyond measuring poverty by household income and expenditure alone. Instead, MODA allows us to focus on how people, especially children, experience life. To achieve this, MODA measures the poverty of outcomes. Put simply: MODA allows us to measure what goods and services a family is able to access for their children to achieve their well-being and full development.
MODA's unique advantage versus other poverty measures is that it captures how children at different ages uniquely experience poverty. The methodology is, in fact, able to dissect what children would be deprived of, at different ages, in terms of key results of cognitive and physical development and of well-being and the extent to which the different deprivations overlap. Inspired by the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a key international convention ratified by Lesotho, the MODA methodology is context specific, with each country determining what dimensions are most important for its children's development.
In Lesotho, eight dimensions were measured in the MODA analysis. Four dimensions are measured at the household level because they affect all household members equally, regardless of age: water, sanitation, housing, and access to information.
The other four dimensions: nutrition, health, education, and protection from violence, are measured for each child. Depending on the age of the child, different measures are applied. The focus in Lesotho, looked at four distinct age groups of children: infancy (0-23 months), early childhood (24-59 months), primary childhood (5-12 years) and adolescence (13-17 years).
Findings from the MODA analysis are a sobering wake up to all of us: more than 2 in 5 children, or 45.5 per cent of all Basotho children, are multidimensionally poor. That is, almost half of children in Lesotho are deprived in three or more dimensions of poverty. Alarmingly, almost all children, 94.6 per cent, experience at least one deprivation.
Whether you are a boy or a girl, living in an urban or rural area, the size of your household and the number of years of education of your parent or caregiver has an impact on child multidimensional poverty.
Here, therefore, are some important additional facts from the report:
• Small children are far more vulnerable than older ones. This is true for children worldwide. In Lesotho, 68.8 per cent of children from 0 to 23 months of age are multidimensionally poor, whereas only 38.2 per cent of Basotho children aged 5 to 12 years are poor.
Unique to Lesotho, slightly more boys (48.2 per cent) than girls (43.0 per cent) are multidimensionally poor.
• Thaba Tseka (65.4%) and Mokhotlong (63.8%) have the highest rates of poor children, while Leribe and Maseru (both at 37.8 per cent) have the lower rates. On examining the urban, rural divide, multidimensional child poverty remains highest in rural areas at 52.5 per cent compared to 31.1 per cent in urban areas.
• If your caregiver has no or fewer years of education, you are more likely to be deprived in more overlapping areas. Perhaps not surprising, the larger your household is (seven or more members), the higher the child poverty rate.
Male-headed households have a higher proportion of multidimensionally poor children than female-headed households.
There is some good news – if we compare to the first multidimensional child poverty analysis done in 2014 in Lesotho, there has been an improvement in most dimensions of deprivation for children. The analysis conducted in 2014 reported 65.4% of Basotho children as living in multidimensional poverty. Since then the country has reduced that number by almost 20 percentage points, which is laudable.
But these declines and comparisons take place with data before COVID-19. We know COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the country, the economy, families and children. We will need to focus and accelerate the pace of programmes that address child poverty if we are to continue to make progress toward the SDG target of halving child poverty by half by 2030.
How can we continue to make progress? The report outlines a number of important recommendations. I'd like to highlight four:
1. We need to improve access to clean water and basic sanitation, especially in schools and communities, something so critical, especially in light of COVID-19. We know from MICS 2018 data that 4 in 5 households in Lesotho had access to basic drinking water while only half of the households had access to basic sanitation. This can and should be addressed. We also know Lesotho is on the path to ending open defecation, and if we support rural communities to do this, Lesotho can achieve the target of zero open defecation.
2. The process led by the government for every child to get a birth certificate is improving. Being registered from birth allows children to be counted in government systems and programmes, including the government-led Child Grant Programme, which provides cash transfers to households most in need. But the MODA analysis showed that only 27% of children 0-23 months are currently registered in the national system. We need to accelerate this process and support communities and facilities to have easy access to registering the birth of a newborn.
3. As noted in the 2018 MICS (Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey), Lesotho has a high rate of stunting among children, at 34.5 per cent. With a focus on nutrition for pregnant women and children in the first 1,000 days of life as noted in the Lesotho Food and Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan, we could make progress against this indicator, which has stubbornly remained high.
4. The impact of COVID-19 on education and learning for children was devastating. But even before COVID-19, we knew that children were not achieving the levels of learning for their age. For example, the 2018 MICS revealed that less than half of children aged 7 to 14 years (44.2 per cent) showed foundational reading skills in either English or Sesotho. And that while four out of five children completed primary school, only 1 in 3 children completed upper secondary school.
Efforts by government to get children back in school during the pandemic must be acknowledged and is an important step in the right direction. Together, as partners and government, we need to continue to ensure that children receive quality education when they are in school and can continue learning beyond the four walls of a school. Scaling up reception year classes will set the foundation for lifelong learning for children and is a critical way to improving learning outcomes. Furthermore, the youth should be supported to complete their education by promoting access to alternative learning pathways, including employability and life skills, especially for those out of school.
Reports such as the MODA help us deepen our understanding of what life is like for children in Lesotho in 2021. We must use this information to inform our investments, our policies, including informing the development of the National Strategic Development Plan II and our programmes. Let's use the evidence and data to reduce child poverty, diminish deprivations for infants, children and adolescents and create the opportunity for every child to realise their dreams.
A reimagined better future for all Basotho children is one of zero deprivation!
#End poverty for all Basotho Children!