Poverty and its impact on development of children in Kenya

Poverty is one of the stressors that greatly impacts the development of children in Kenya.  Poverty can negatively affect the cognitive, psychosocial and physical development of children.  According to Dr. Wexler, the early years of a child’s life are crucial for building the brain’s foundation for future learning, health and success. Healthy brain development depends on, several factors including: proper nutrition starting in pregnancy; limiting exposure to toxins or infections; and the child’s experiences with other people and the world around them (Wexler, 2018).  Poverty in third world countries like Kenya result in malnutrition which in turn would affect the growth and development of the mother and ultimately the growth of a child.  Short maternal stature poses constraints on fetal growth and reflects the combined effect of genetics, nutrition, and environment during the mother’s own growth and development, which may impair a mother’s capacity to deliver nutrients to her fetus when she reaches reproductive age. Infants who are born small show increased risk of stunting during infancy.  Analyses of cross-sectional data from 54 countries have shown that the mean LAZ in Africa and Asia is below the WHO standard median at birth and progressively declines through 24 months of age with little to no recovery thereafter (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 104, Issue 6, December 2016, Pages 1616–1627).  Poor nutrition for the mother would also translate to poor nutrition for babies when being breastfed.

Children in poverty do not usually receive cognitive stimulation from reading.  If they live in slums or highly polluted areas, they do not receive adequate stimulation from exploring their environment.  The creation of neural networks are not determined by genetics but are created after birth by stimulation from the environment (Wexler, 2010).   Mothers who are poor are stressed thinking and looking for daily necessities and most probably would not read to their children.  Children with a condition requiring medical attention score approximately five percentile points lower on the math test, four points lower on the reading recognition test, two points lower on the reading comprehension test, and one point lower on the picture vocabulary test. Having a condition that limits school activities appears to be associated with quantitatively larger reductions in scores: approximately 15 percentile points lower on the math test, 18 points on the reading recognition test, 15 points on the reading comprehension test, and nine points on the picture vocabulary test (Welsch, Zimmer, 2010).

Another indicator that identifies children deprived in housing is indoor air pollution from solid fuels with no separate room used for cooking. The indoor air pollution indicator has been chosen because cooking with fuel wood under poor ventilation conditions has been demonstrated in the literature to be associated with a higher risk of infant and child mortality and morbidity due to acute respiratory infections (Bruce et al, 2000). As indicated in the Kenya Health Policy 2014- 2030, indoor air pollution is one of the top five leading risk factors contributing to mortality and morbidity (MOH, 2014). Other poverty related issues that affect young children in Kenya are bad water quality, poor sanitation, housing, healthcare and education. 

Among others, Mully Children’s Family, a non- profit organization, has six locations across Kenya that help to address the issues caused by poverty.  The organization has a comprehensive approach through which thousands of children are helped regardless of tribe, race, religion or gender.  This approach includes caring for orphans, rescuing young mothers and their children, education and vocational training, medical and dental care.  Mully Children’s Family also provides for the children and creates jobs through self-sustainable projects like agriculture.  It has a program for environmental conservation by planting over a million trees, a disaster relief program for saving lives through emergency aid. An advocacy program was created to train law enforcement agencies and other groups to protect human rights and children in need.  They also organized a community outreach, giving basic necessities, employment opportunities, and spiritual ministry to their communities.


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The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 104, Issue 6, December 2016, Pages 1616–1627, https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.133538

McLoyd, V. C., 2000.  Poverty: Childhood poverty. 

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Mully Children’s Family.  2019.  Retrieved from


Welsch, D. M., Zimmer, D., 2010.  The effect of health and poverty on early childhood cognitive development. 

Atlantic Economic Journal. Mar2010, Vol. 38 Issue 1, p37-49. 13p. 6 Charts. DOI: 10.1007/s11293-009-9198-2. 

Wexler, B., 2018. Neuroscience-based opportunities to improve academic performance of low-income students.  Retrieved from


UNICEF.  2017.  Child Poverty in Kenya A multidimensional approach.  Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)