Multidimensional Child Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa

A new working paper called ‘Analysing child poverty and deprivation in sub-Saharan Africa’ has been published by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. The paper uses a framework called ‘MODA’ designed to measure multidimensional poverty specifically for children within and across countries. We caught up with Sudhanshu Handa, Chief of Social and Economic Policy at the UNICEF Office of Research to learn about the paper’s new findings and the strategy behind its unique analysis.


Can you tell us what MODA is in simple terms?
MODA stands for “multiple overlapping deprivation analysis.” The MODA methodology has been developed to more accurately define and measure child poverty both at a national and international level, taking into consideration the complex, multifaceted realities of poverty which children experience at different stages of their lives.


What are the major new things we have learned with this paper on sub-Saharan Africa?
This is the first study to quantify the number and depth of multi-dimensional child poverty in sub-Saharan Africa using data on individual children. In the 30 countries for which comparable data are available, 86 per cent of children below age 18 suffer from at least one deprivation, and even more serious, 23 per cent of children suffer from 4 or 5 deprivations simultaneously—approximately 87m children. These are the first such estimates for sub-Saharan Africa.

How will this push policy and service provision forward?
The cross-country analysis in this paper is aimed at understanding the overall picture of child deprivations and their distribution in sub-Saharan Africa, in part to signal to the global development community the extent of the problem. Nevertheless, even this cross-country comparative analysis holds some interesting policy implications.


Can you give a specific example?
For example, while nutrition deprivation rates are about the same in urban and rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, the overlap between nutrition and other deprivations is significantly higher in rural areas. In other words, nutrition deprivation in urban areas is often a stand-alone problem, and better addressed through a sector approach. In rural areas, on the other hand, a multi-sector approach to addressing malnutrition is likely to be a more cost-effective approach.

The second key finding with policy implications is the fact that country child poverty rankings differ depending on whether one uses monetary or multi-dimensional child poverty as the yardstick. This highlights the need to go beyond simple monetary measures when assessing child well-being.


How will this help governments in sub-Saharan Africa to address child poverty going forward?
The multidimensional approach allows governments to pinpoint exactly which specific deprivations – health, nutrition, water, housing – are most critical for children. And by looking at overlaps among dimensions, governments can assess whether a sector or multi-sector approach would be more cost-effective in addressing child poverty.

Finally, the study highlights the important difference between monetary versus deprivation approaches to measuring child poverty. For children, knowing the exact deprivations they suffer allows precise identification of interventions that will directly address child suffering.

MODA indicator table

Multidimensional poverty analysis is not new. How is MODA new or different?
Most poverty scholars and practitioners have heard of the Multidimensional Poverty Index or MPI, a popular measure of poverty that goes beyond income to look at deprivations in domains such as water, housing, education, and health. Well, MODA can be viewed as the child version of the MPI. The indicators that go into MODA are selected for their relevance for child well-being, and are measured for children, not for households as is done in the MPI.

This is a key distinction and the main innovation of MODA. Consequently, it allows us to measure child deprivation directly. Because the tool measures deprivations for each individual child, it enables us to also observe children with multiple deprivations—extremely important from an equity standpoint. This is the second major innovation of MODA.


How will it improve policy for fighting child poverty?
Note that non-income components of well-being are arguably much more important for children, which makes the development of this tool that much more essential for tackling child poverty. First, household income is not under the control of children, so there is no guarantee that just because a household has sufficient income that children get what they need to thrive. And many items that enter into a multidimensional index such as clean water or nutrition have long lasting effects on child development. For children, these things are the ultimate objective of development—not income. Thus, the deprivation approach is more relevant for children than it is for households. MODA allows us to measure these deprivations among children themselves.

Figure 12_0-4

How would MODA help programmes be more effective?
This tool can inform programmes in two ways. First, by accurately assessing deprivations, it allows countries to identify the most important deprivations facing children—this would inform decisions about what to focus on (which sectors to prioritize). Second, by measuring multiple overlapping deprivations, the tool allows governments to identify who to focus on—the most deprived, or those with the most rights violations, which is consistent with the Human Rights Based Approach to Programming (HRBAP). MODA is thus fully consistent with the HRBAP which is the core guiding principle for UNICEF’s work.


Can you give a simple example of how policymakers might use this new information?
For example, in Mali the highest rates of child deprivation are found in Tombouctou and Kidal, regions which do not have the highest monetary poverty rates. Hence, the tool shows us where to start in order to combat child deprivation directly. The Mali analysis also shows that for children age 0-23 months the highest single deprivation is nutrition. For children age 5-14 years, on the other hand, the highest single deprivation is child labour. These clearly direct us to the sectors that need to be addressed to tackle age-specific child deprivation.

A student cleans a chalkboard at a school in Bamako in 2012.
A student cleans a chalkboard at a school in Bamako, Mali. ©UNICEF/MLIA2012-00887/Bindra

Tell us more about the MODA tool. Why was it developed?
MODA is a tool developed by UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti, with support from the Division of Policy and Strategy, to enhance the equity focus of child poverty and deprivation analyses around the world. It is a contribution to global efforts to generate quality evidence on child poverty and disparities. It recognises that a child’s experience of deprivations is multi-faceted and interrelated, and that such multiple, overlapping deprivations are more likely to occur, and with greater adverse effects, in more socio-economically disadvantaged groups.


How is MODA different from other methods of measuring multidimensional poverty?
MODA builds on UNICEF’s Global Study on Child Poverty and Disparities, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), and other research carried out in the field of multidimensional poverty.

It has several features that we can say distinguish it from most existing analytical frameworks. As mentioned, it selects the child as the unit of analysis, rather than the household, since children experience poverty differently from adults especially with regards to developmental needs. Of course, it uses a life-cycle approach that reflects the different needs of early childhood, primary childhood and adolescence.

It also measures monetary poverty and multidimensional deprivations simultaneously for each child whenever the data used has information on both. Finally, it helps to force the development world and governments away from the typical “silo” approach. When we can generate better pictures of how multiple deprivations affect individual children, it becomes much clearer how and where different actors must work together to defeat multidimensional child poverty.


A series of briefs on how the cross-country component of MODA was used to produce the new paper on child deprivations in sub-Saharan Africa is available for those who want to drill down further. You can also access the online portal for MODA here:

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