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ARGENTINA | 01-11-2023 05:39

Argentina and the infantilisation of poverty

Experts say Argentina is going through a process of “poverty infantilisation” – minors are poorer than the rest of the population, with teens and children in single-parent homes the most vulnerable. Are welfare programmes just a patch or are they preventing the situation from getting worse?

According to data published by the INDEC national statistics bureau for the first half of this year, 57 percent of kids and teenagers in Argentina aged 0 to 17 are poor. That equates to around 7.4 million children. Of that total, some 14.3 percent live in extreme poverty. In the country today, 1.8 million minors do not have sufficient resources to reach the basic food basket. 

Over the last few years, child poverty has risen to new highs across Argentina. In the second half of 2017, 40 percent of minors were living in poverty. By the second half of 2020, that figure reached 58 percent.

“When comparing child poverty rates with those of the overall population, the former are higher, and thus, there is the 'infantilisation of poverty,” concluded a recent report by the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (Civil Association for Equality and Justice, ​​ACIJ) on the subject.

“Families with children are poorer than those without them,” underlined Bárbara Zanino, a lawyer with the ACIJ’s Child Social Rights Programme. 

Conditions are worsening. Though the percentage of child poverty was similar, and even higher during the first half of 2019 (52.6 percent) and the first half of 2022 (51.5 percent), extreme poverty has increased over the same period, rising from 12.9 percent in 2019 to 13.2 percent in 2022. While overall poverty has decreased, destitution has increased. 

Argentina has a host of welfare programmes aimed at fighting child poverty, such as Universal Child Allowance (AUH) , Family Bonus or the Alimentar food programme. However, the effectiveness of those subsidies have been called into doubt because, as stated by UNICEF,, “since the return to democracy, child poverty has stayed above 30 percent”. 

At this point it is necessary to wonder: are subsidies helping the poorest to emerge out of poverty or are they just sticking-plaster solutions. How can child destitution be fought?

 

 

Vulnerability

The ACIJ reports that, in the first half of 2023, the AUH child allowance covered 37.5 percent of the basic food basket as defined by INDEC. The association proposes that every minor living “in a vulnerable situation receives a benefit to cover the value of one basic food basket,” and thus “it would involve increasing benefits to reach that amount.”

Zanino mentions that minors have special protection “from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to the Argentine Constitution and laws such as 26,061,” the Law on Comprehensive Children’s Rights Protection.

Children “ require stronger protection because they are minors. From that basis, the State has a responsibility to guarantee proper food to that population,” she said in an interview.

“Do benefits have to cover one basic basket? The answer is yes, because the State must ensure proper food for girls, boys and teenagers,” she answered.

Opinions among specialists vary. According to Ianina Tuñón, head researcher from the Children’s Social Debt Barometer, a programme from the Observatorio de la Deuda Social Argentina (“Social Debt Observatory”) of the Universidad Católica Argentina (Catholic University of Argentina, UCA), “transfers are not aimed at covering one basic food basket – they ensure minimum equity.”

“Clearly, in a context of high inflation rates, are not enough to eradicate poverty, but they do prevent destitution from growing,” she added.

According to the expert, the government must create “public policies which generate quality jobs for adults.” 

Others too doubt the long-term impact of benefits. “Do subsidies have to cooperate to the entire development of a person? That is a question which politics must settle,” said Esteban de Gori, a CONICET researcher with a PhD in Social Sciencies.

“Benefits are meant to get people out of poverty, not to keep them there for years. And at certain times in history, due to greater informality processes, those subsidies end up maintaining poverty,” he observed 

“Benefit should be included in a set of institutional devices which helps people get out of poverty,” he concluded. 

 

Excluded immigrants

The ACIJ notes that more than  one million children in Argentina  “are still outside any social protection, whether for statutory matters, for instance requirements related to the migratory situation of foreign families, or for being unidentified”.”

“There are only 1,800 children without the AUH benefit because they have not resided legally in the country for at least two years. It is worth noting that they are also entitled to this benefit, but [that] politics sets the limit of legal residence. We believe they should have access to the bonus,” Zanino explained, noting that some children and teenagers are excluded.

“The AUH has a requirement in relation to immigrants with a minimum residence, which may be overruled when it comes to children. As long as foreign families reside in the country, their children have the same rights as the rest of children,” Tuñón assured.

“Argentina has a long tradition of integrating migrants, via healthcare, cultural devices and acknowledgement of rights for inhabiting the soil,” observed Dr De Gori.

 “Unrecorded children should have the same rights recognised by the State, especially because part of their identity is built from the idea of living in this territory.

“This does not mean that the State should not review certain residence matters: a child in transit is not the same as one living in this territory. We’re talking about common sense.” said the social scientist.

 

Single-parent homes

The ACIJ highlighted even more vulnerable groups: teenagers and children of single-parent homes. Extreme poverty in all homes run by a single parent reaches 21.7 percent, whereas in the case of families with both parents, the percentage is 11 percent. 

Poverty grows with children. Between ages zero to three, the percentage of children in extreme poverty is 10.4 percent; it is 12.5 percent between four and nine years; it then rises from ages 10 to 17 to 15 percent. 

Researcher Tuñón includes as vulnerable groups “young mothers who live with their parents and teenage dropouts.” 

Location can also come into play. In areas of high vulnerability to poverty, these can often be related to generations of the same family, deep in poverty in a working-class area.

“Single-parent homes, mostly single-mother homes, are poorer because they have one provider, their mother. These homes require a particular outlook by the government,” said Tuñón. 

“Single-parent homes entail more vulnerability in terms of capacity to support one’s home, but also in terms of childcare and upbringing,” the professional stated.

 

Discriminatory rules

Another ACIJ policy criticism is the “discriminatory regulations” defining access to social benefits. 

These can be as simple as age – for example, the cut-off point for the Alimentar food programme. “While minors aged up to 14 in vulnerable sectors have the AUH benefit and the Alimentar Programme, after they turn 15 teenagers are excluded from this food policy,” said the association in its report.

“Teenagers are the poorest among poor minors. After 15, many stop collecting the AUH because they drop out of school. In the most segregated areas there is a strong concentration of structural poverty and thus there is more homogeneity in terms of multiple scarcities,” Tuñón explained. “ This context is usually called the ‘poverty intergenerational transmission process’.”

She continued: “We are worried about the situation of teenagers aged 15 to 17 who only have access to one AUH, or 17,000 pesos [in a] best-case scenario. They are very far from being able to afford a basic food basket.”

The ACIJ report highlights that “some of the main problems of income transfer policies are the insufficiency and lack of benefits to ensure minimum food standards,” Zanino stressed.  “It’s important to go back to the beginning, when we said it was about rights, not aid.”

 

Recreating poverty

De Gori explained that “subsidies began to be conceived in risk societies, where an increasing portion of society was in vulnerable situations. They were intended as policies focused on helping families outside wage-earners, school, outside the recorded world. Today in Argentina, six-and-a-half million workers are informal. In many cases, that precariousness ends up reproducing or recreating poverty,” said the researcher.

“Vulnerable children, as they grow up, do not get out of poverty, but add to it,” he stated. “They and their parents are kept in that situation.” 

He continued: “Emerging from poverty involves a proposal for parents, because you cannot think of children without thinking of their families. Keeping parents in poverty does not meet the goal the subsidies are supposed to be for,” he said. 

“You don’t get out of poverty with easy solutions, with aid, because if the social benefit is low and there are no other institutional devices, those children, rather than leaving poverty, recreate it. 

“With low educational quality, weak links to healthcare institutions, poor relationships with food, these lead to children with low capabilities to defend themselves from the labour market and culture,” he concluded.

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Sabrina Chemen

Sabrina Chemen

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