Although poverty rates have reduced during the last 15 years, Peru is still one of the countries in Latin America with the highest level of income inequality. Nearly one out of two Peruvians lives in poverty – three out of five in the case of children – and one out of five is extremely poor. Income inequalities and, more generally, inequalities in human development between urban and rural areas, between Spanish and non-Spanish speakers and across climatic zones are remarkable; most of the extreme poor live in rural areas in the highlands and in the rural jungle and have Quechua, Aymara and other languages, rather than Spanish, as native tongues. They have fewer opportunities to progress through life and, as one might expect, this matters a great deal in explaining differences in child development indicators.
Within this context, the objective of this review is to describe the performance of key child development indicators in Peru between 1993 and 2005 and to link these results with findings from the recent literature on childhood poverty. The focus is on quantitative studies. Three dimensions of child development are reviewed: health and nutrition, schooling and child work. These topics are essential to understanding the persistence of poverty and childhood poverty in Peru and, as such, remain at the core of the debate on poverty alleviation.
The literature reviewed here provides a detailed picture of the challenges faced by Peruvian children. Yet, some aspects of child development have yet to be explored and this is in part due to a lack of data. Most of the current studies based their results on the analysis of crosssectional data. Insofar as adequate strategies are used, this does not represent a methodological problem (one still can obtain robust estimations). However, many aspects related to child development are dynamic in nature and, as such, can only be studied using longitudinal data. This includes the study of the potential impact of chronic under-nutrition, which develops early in life, on later educational and labour outcomes; the determinants of pre-school enrolment and its effects on school achievement; and the study of the transition from primary to secondary school, the period when most school abandonment is observed. These subjects should be part of the current research agenda as they would feed on the implementation of policies to alleviate childhood poverty.