The Multidimensionality of Child Poverty: Evidence from Afghanistan


This paper examines multidimensional poverty among children in Afghanistan using the Alkire-Foster method. Several previous studies have underlined the need to separate children from their adult nexus when studying poverty and treat them according to their own specificities. From the capability approach, child poverty is understood to be the lack of freedom to do and to be what children themselves value and have reason to value. The case of Afghanistan is particularly relevant as years of conflict aggravated by several severe droughts, political insecurity, bad governance and ongoing violence have significantly increased poverty in the country. The paper discusses the relevant dimensions when analysing child poverty and uses data from a survey carried out by Handicap International which contains information on dimensions of children’s wellbeing that is typically missing in standard surveys. Ten dimension are considered in this paper: health, care and love, material deprivation, food security, social inclusion, education, freedom from economic and non-economic exploitation, shelter and environment, autonomy, and mobility. Our results show that younger children, those living in rural areas, girls and disabled children are the most deprived.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    The maternal mortality ratio was 1,600 per 100,000 in 2001, the infant mortality rate was 165 and the under five mortality rate was 257 (UNICEF 2004).

  2. 2.

    Mehrotra (2006), Roelen and Gassmann (2008) White et al. (2002), Camfield et al. (2009).

  3. 3.

    In another report for OECD countries (UNICEF 2007) the analysis was extended to six separate dimensions: material deprivation, health and safety, education, children’s relationships, behaviour and lifestyles and subjective wellbeing. Although for some of these dimensions the link to CRC it is not clear (Roelen and Gassmann 2008).

  4. 4.

    Among other approaches there is the Childhood Poverty Research and Policy Centre (CHIP) that defines child poverty as growing up in the absence of any of the factors listed below which constitutes childhood poverty: an adequate livelihood—the financial and nutritional resources needed for survival and development (economic, physical and environmental resources); opportunities for human development—including access to quality education and life skills, health and water/sanitation (social, cultural and physical resources); family and community structures that nurture and protect them—parents/guardians with time (or ability/desire) to care for them; an extended family/community that can cope if parents and guardians are not able (or not there); or a community that cares for and protects its younger generation (social and cultural resources); and opportunities for voice—powerlessness and lack of voice (political resources) often underpin other aspects of poverty (this also applies to adults) (Minujin et al. 2006, p. 487)

  5. 5.

    Instruments were all translated into Farsi and Pashto with iterative back-translation methods and tested with a pilot survey carried out between November 19 and November 30, 2004. We found a Cronbach’s α = 0.85 showing a good internal consistency of the screening tool. The training of the 15 trainers and monitors, the 24 supervisors as well as the 112 interviewers took place in 6 major cities. Trainers and monitors were medical doctors from the Ministry of Public Health with previous experience in large-scale surveys. Interviewers, who were recruited locally for security purposes, had a high-school level education and were trained in survey concepts and goals, disability issues and awareness, interview techniques, mine risk awareness, and security information. This was followed by review, testing and debriefing. The study received ethical approval from the Committee on Human Research of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and from the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan.

  6. 6.

    As in Alkire 2008, here “domain” and “dimension” are used interchangeably.


  1. Abegunde, D., Mathers, C., Adam, T., Ortegon, M., & Strong, K. (2007). The burden and costs of chronic diseases in low-income and middle-income countries. Lancet, 370, 1929–1938.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Alkire, S. (2008). Choosing dimensions: The capability approach and multidimensional poverty. In N. Kakwani & J. Silber (Eds.), The many dimensions of poverty. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.

  3. Alkire, S., & Foster, J. E. (2009). Counting and multidimensional poverty measurement. Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, OPHI Working Paper no. 7.5.

  4. Alkire, S., & Foster, J. (2011). Counting and multidimensional poverty measurement. Journal of Public Economics, 95, 476.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Alkire, S., & Seth, S. (2013). Selecting a targeting method to identify BPL households in India. Social Indicators Research. doi:10.1007/s11205-013-0254-6.

  6. Allan, N. (2003) Rethinking governance in Afghanistan. Journal of International Affairs, 56(1), 193–202.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Asian Foundation. (2010). Afghanistan in 2010: A survey of the Afghan People.

  8. Bakhshi, P., Trani, J. F., & Rolland, C. (2006). Conducting surveys on disability a comprehensive toolkit. Lyon, France: Handicap International. Accessed May 5, 2009.

  9. Bakhshi, P., & Trani, J. F. (2006). Towards inclusion and equality in education? From assumptions to facts. Lyon, France: Handicap International. Accessed May 5, 2009.

  10. Bartlett, L. A., Mawji, S., Whitehead, S., Crouse, C., Dalil, S., Ionete, D., et al. (2005). Where giving birth is a forecast of death: Maternal mortality in four districts of Afghanistan, 1999–2002. Lancet, 365, 864–870.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Beall, J., & Schutte, S. (2006). Urban livelihood in Afghanistan, synthesis paper series. Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit. Accessed May 25, 2009.

  12. Ben-Arieh, A. (2008). The child indicators movement: Past, present, and future. Child Indicators Research, 1, 3–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Bhutta, Z. A. (2002). Children of War: The real casualties of the Afghan Conflict. British Medical Journal, 324, 324–350.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Biggeri, M., & Anich, R. (2009). The deprivation of street children in Kampala: Can the capability approach and participatory methods unlock a new perspective in research & decision making? Mondes en Developpement, 37(2), 146.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Biggeri, M., Libanora, R., Mariani, S., & Menchini, L. (2006). Children conceptualizing their capabilities: Results of the survey during the first children’s world congress on child labour. Journal of Human Development, 7(1), 59–83.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Biggeri, M., & Libanora, R. (2011). From valuing to evaluating: Tools and procedures to operationalise the capability approach. In M. Biggeri, J. Ballet & F. Comim (Eds.), Children and the capability approach (Chap. 4). New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.

  17. Biggeri, M., & Mehrotra, R. (2011). Child poverty as capability deprivation: How to choose dimensions of child wellbeing and poverty? In M. Biggeri, J. Ballet, F. Comim (Eds.), Children and the capability approach (Chap. 3). New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.

  18. Boyden, J. (2006). Young lives project: Concepts and analytical framework. UK: Young Lives.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Bradshaw, J. P., Hoelscher, P., & Richardson, D. (2006). An index of child well-being in the European Union. Social Indicators Research, 80(1), 133–177.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Camfield, L. (2006). Why and how of understanding ‘subjective’ well-being: Exploratory work by the WeD group in four developing countries. WeD Working Paper 26.

  21. Camfield, L., Streuli, N., & Woodhead, M. (2009). What’s the use of ‘well-being’ in contexts of child poverty? Approaches to research, monitoring and children’s participation. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 17, 65–109.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Corak, M. (2006). Principles and practicalities for measuring child poverty. International Social Security Review, 29(2), 3–36.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Donini, A. (2007). Local perceptions of assistance to Afghanistan. International Peacekeeping, 1(14), 158–172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Feeny, T., & Boyden, J. (2003). Children and poverty: A review of contemporary literature and thought on children and poverty. Richmond, VA: Christian Children’s Fund.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Ghobadi, N., Koettl, J., & Vakis, R. (2005). Moving out of poverty: Migration insights from rural Afghanistan. Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Goodhand, J. (2002) Aiding violence or building peace? The role of international aid in Afghanistan. Third World Quarterly 23(5), 837–859.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Gordon, D., Nandy, S., Pantazis, C., Pemberton, S., & Townsend, P. (2003). Child poverty in the developing world. New York: UNICEF.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Gwatkin, D., Bhuiya, A., & Victora, C. (2004). Making health systems more equitable. Lancet, 364, 1273–1280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hunte, P. (2009). Beyond poverty: Factors influencing decisions to use child labour in rural and urban Afghanistan. Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, Synthesis Paper Series.

  30. Johnecheck, A., & Holland, D. E. (2007). Nutritional status in postconflict Afghanistan: Evidence from the national surveillance system pilot and national risk and vulnerability assessment. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 1(28), 3–17.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Jonsson, U. (2003). Human rights approach to development programming. Nairobi: UNICEF.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Land, K. C., Lamb, V. L., & Mustillo, S. K. (2001). Child and youth well-being in the United States, 1975–1998: Some findings from a new index. Social Indicators Research, 56, 241–320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Land, K. C., Lamb, V. L., Meadows, S. O., & Taylor, A. (2007). Measuring trends in child well-being: An evidence-based approach. Social Indicators Research, 80(1), 105–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Mehrotra, S. (2006). Child poverty. In D. A. Clark (Ed.), The Elgar companion to development studies. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

  35. Ministry of Education. (2008). National education strategic plan for Afghanistan 1385–1389. Kabul: Ministry of Education.

  36. Minujin, A., & Delamonica, E. E. (2005). Incidence, depth and severity of children in poverty. Working paper, Division of Policy and Planning. New York: UNICEF.

  37. Minujin, A., Delamonica, E. E., Davidziuk, A., & Gonzalez, E. D. (2006). The definition of child poverty: A discussion of concepts and measurements. Environment and Urbanization, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), 18(2), 481–500.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Moser, C., & Norton, A. (2001). To claim our rights: Livelihoods security, human rights and sustainable development. London: ODI.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Nussbaum, M. (2000). Women and human development: The capabilities approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Nussbaum, M. (2003). Capabilities as fundamental entitlements: Sen and social justice. Feminist Economics, 9(2–3), 33–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Panter-Brick, C., Eggerman, M., Mojadidi, A., & Mcdade, T. W. (2008). Social stressors, mental health, and physiological stress in an urban elite of young Afghans in Kabul. American Journal of Human Biology, 20, 627–641.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Robeyns, I. (2003a). Sen’s capability approach and gender inequality: Selecting relevant capabilities. Feminist Economics, 9(2–3), 61–92.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Robeyns, I. (2003b). The capability approach: An interdisciplinary introduction. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Robeyns, I. (2006). Three models of education: Rights, capabilities and human capital. Theory and Research in Education, 4(1), 69–84.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Roelen, K., & Gassmann, F. (2008). Measuring child poverty and well-being: A literature review. MPRA Paper, no. 8981.

  46. Rostami-Povey, E. (2007). Afghan women, identity and invasion. London: Zed Books.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Rousseau, S. (2001). Capabilites, risques et vulnerabilites. In J.-L. Dubois, J.-P. Lachaud, J.-M. Montaud & A. Pouille (Eds.), Pauvrete et developpement socialement durable (pp. 11–22). Bordeaux: Presse Universtaire de Bordeaux.

  48. Save the Children. (2008). The child development index: Holding governments to account for children’s wellbeing. London: Save the Children.

  49. Sen, A. K. (1992). Inequality reexamined. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Sen, A. K. (1999). Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Sen, A. K. (2004a). Capabilities, lists, and public reason: Continuing the conversation. Feminist Economics, 10, 77–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Sen, A. K. (2004b). Elements of a theory of human rights. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 32(4), 315–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Stockton, N.J. (2002) The failure of international humanitarian action in Afghanistan. Global Governance 8(3), 265–271.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Suhrcke, M., Nugent, R. A., Stuckler, D., & Rocco, L. (2006). Chronic disease: An economic perspective. London: The Oxford Health Alliance.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Trani, J. F. (2009). Screening children for disabilities. The Lancet, 374(28), 1806–1807.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Trani, J. F., Bakhshi, P. (2006). Understanding the challenge ahead. The national disability survey in afghanistan executive summary. Lyon, France: Handicap International.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Trani, J. F., Bakhshi, P., & Dubois, J. L. (2006). Understanding vulnerability of Afghans with disability, livelihoods, employment, income. Lyon, France: Handicap International.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Trani, J. F., & Bakhshi, P. (2007). Livelihood and employment of women with disability in afghanistan: Empowerment of women, a new idea changing Afghan history? Paper presented at the 7th international conference of the capabilities approach, 16th-20th September 2007, New School, New York.

  59. Trani, J. F., Bakhshi, P., Noor, A., & Mashkoor, A. (2009). Building a disability strategy in Afghanistan: A capabilities approach to research challenges and policy implications. European Journal of Development Research, 21(2), 297–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Trani, J. F., Bakhshi, P., Noor, A., Mashkoor, A., & Lopez, D. (2010). Poverty, vulnerability, and provision of healthcare in Afghanistan. Social Science and Medicine (forthcoming).

  61. Trani, J. F., Bakhshi, P., & Nandipati, A. (2012). Delivering education; Maintaining inequality. The case of children with disabilities in afghanistan. Cambridge Journal of Education, 21, 141–163.

    Google Scholar 

  62. UNDP. (2007). Human development report: Fighting climate change. New York: United Nations Publications.

  63. UNESCO. (1990). The world declaration on education for all. Paris: UNESCO.

  64. UNICEF. (2004). State of the world’s children 2005: Childhood under threat. New York: UNICEF.

  65. UNICEF. (2005a). Child poverty in rich countries. Innocenti Report Card no. 6. Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

  66. UNICEF. (2005b). The proportion of children living in poverty has risen in a majority of the world’s developed economies. Innocenti report on Child Poverty in Rich Countries Card no. 6. Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

  67. UNICEF. (2007). Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries. Innocenti Report Card no. 7. Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

  68. Vulnerability Analysis Unit and Central Statistics Organisation. (2007). National risk and vulnerability assessment 2007/8: A profile of Afghanistan. Kabul: Jehoon Printing Press.

  69. White, H., Leavy, J., & Masters, A. (2002). Comparative perspectives on child poverty: A review of poverty measures. Working paper, no. 1. Oxford: Young Lives.

  70. World Food Programme and Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. (2004). Reports on findings from the 2003 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA) in Rural Afghanistan.

  71. World Health Organization. (2001). International classification of functioning, disability and health. Geneva: WHO.

  72. Young Lives. (2001). Summary of the young lives conceptual framework, from

Download references


The authors acknowledge the European Commission, UNOPS/UNDP UNMAS (Volunteer Trust Fund), Ambassade de France en Afghanistan, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Handicap International for funding the National Disability Survey in Afghanistan research project. They benefited hugely from the comments of the participants of the OPHI Workshop on Multidimensional Measures in Six Contexts (Oxford, 1–2 June 2009), IX ISQOLS Conference (Florence, 19–23 July 2009) and HDCA Annual Conference (Lima, 10–12 September 2009). In particular they are grateful for the comments of Sabina Alkire, Masood Awan, Conchita D’Ambrosio, James Foster, Rozana Himaz, Filomena Maggino, Jose Manuel Roche, Maria Emma Santos and Sarah Valenti. They are also grateful to Parul Bakhshi and Ellie Cole for useful comments on drafts of this paper. They also want to warmly thank the 5,130 families of Afghanistan who kindly received interviewers and answered their questions. They retain responsibility for the opinions expressed in the paper.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jean-Francois Trani.



The following is a description of dimensions of wellbeing used for the purpose of this paper. The choices made to determine the cutoff in each dimension are based on the literature as well as on observations made by one of the authors during fieldwork. Obviously, the subjectivity of these choices indicating the level of poverty can be questioned. More research is needed to ensure a more objective method for selecting cutoffs.

  1. 1.


    What are the main sources of drinking water for your household?

    • 1 = piped into residence/compound/plot

    • 2 = public tap

    • 3 = hand pump in residence/compound/plot

    • 4 = public hand-pump

    • 5 = well in residence/compound/plot

    • 6 = covered well

    • 7 = open well and kariz

    • 8 = spring

    • 9 = river/ stream

    • 10 = pond/lake

    • 11 = still water

    • 12 = rain water

    • 13 = tanker/truck

    • 14 = other (specify)

    The child is deprived on this dimension if the answer is 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 13 or 14.

  2. 2.


    Who takes care of your child besides yourself?

    • 1 = mother

    • 2 = father

    • 3 = sister/brother

    • 4 = he/she herself or himself

    • 5 = other children

    • 6 = other member of the family

    • 7 = mullah

    • 8 = other leader of the community

    • 9 = other member of the community

    • 10 = no one

    • 11 = other (specify)

    The child is deprived on this dimension if the mother is not taking care of him or her.

  3. 3.

    Family assets

    Does any member of your household own any of the following?

    • I = radio, tape recorder

    • II = television

    • III = pressure cooker

    • IV = oven, hotplate

    • V = refrigerator

    • VI = traditional stove/bukhari

    • VII = bicycle

    • VIII = motorbike

    • IX = car

    • X = tractor

    • XI = generator

    • XII = kerosene lamp

    • XIII = sewing machine

    The child is deprived in this dimension if the family has less than six assets. If the family owns a tractor or a car the child is automatically set as non-deprived.

  4. 4.

    Food Security

    Material deprivation of the children How often does your household get enough to eat?

    • 1 = always enough

    • 2 = sometimes not enough

    • 3 = frequently not enough

    • 4 = always not enough

    • 5 = enough but with poor quality

    The child is deprived in this dimension if the answer is 3 or 4.

  5. 5.

    Social inclusion

    • Has anyone ever ill-treated your child?

    • Did you and your child take part in any ceremony during the past year?

    • Is your child engaged or married?

    The child is deprived on this dimension if the answer is “yes” on at least one of the questions.

  6. 6.


    • Has the person received some education?

    • The child is deprived in this dimension if he has received no education.

  7. 7.

    Freedom from economic and non-economic exploitation and leisure activities

    • How many hours per day does your child spend on household tasks?

    • How many hours per day does your child spend on fieldwork during the season of work?

    • How many hours per day does your child spend on work outside the house?

    • The child is deprived in this dimension if he or she works more than two and a half hour per day.

  8. 8.

    Shelter and environment

    • How many people per room are there in your household?

    • The child is deprived in this dimension if he or she lives in a house with three or more people per room

Dimensions 9 and 10 consist of a set of items that help establish a score in the given dimension. These dimensions are respectively constituted of six and five items to which the respondents had the choice between three possibilities. Each of these answers was given a certain score: 0 for “yes I can do it”, 1 for “yes, I can do it but with difficulty”, and 2 for “no, I cannot do it”. As a result, the higher the score on each dimension, the higher the level of difficulties the child faces in the given dimension.

A score indicator is constructed by adding up the answers. A score between 1 and 3 is considered to be “Mild Difficulty”; a score between 4 and 6 is “Moderate Difficulty”; a score between 7 and 9 is “Severe Difficulty”; and finally, a score between 10 and 12 is considered to be “Very Severe Difficulty”.

  1. 9.

    Personal autonomy

    Is your child able to do the following?

    • I = bathing/ablutions

    • II = getting dressed

    • III = preparing meals for yourself

    • IV = going to the toilet

    • V = eating/drinking

    • VI = moving around

    The child is deprived in this dimension if he or she has at least moderate difficulty (which corresponds to a score between 3 and 5).

  2. 10.


    What is he or she able to do outside the house/compound? (N.B.: Ask this question if the child is over 8)

    • I = climbing stairs

    • II = going to the bazaar/shop

    • III = carrying water

    • IV = working in the field

    • V = riding a bicycle/or animal

The child is deprived in this dimension if he or she has at least moderate difficulty (which corresponds to a score between 3 and 5).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Trani, J., Biggeri, M. & Mauro, V. The Multidimensionality of Child Poverty: Evidence from Afghanistan. Soc Indic Res 112, 391–416 (2013).

Download citation


  • Multidimensional poverty measurement
  • Capability approach
  • Children