Is poverty a violation of human rights?

We are living in a world where more than a billion of people are living with less than a dollar a day. Because of lack of resources, every day 30 000 children under 5 years die because of sicknesses that could be prevented. 1 over 5 children doesn’t have access to primary school and only 1 over 10 will live until 5 years. This awful outcome, which could be extended, explains the socio-economic situation of the world. Even though everyone is convinced that poverty as a social phenomenon is real, there is a great deal of debate about what Poverty truly is. However, a precise definition of poverty is necessary to delimit the phenomenon, by identifying the main actors for bringing appropriate solutions.

Thus poverty, as a social phenomenon, should be regulated by Law. But even if it is hard to believe, poverty is not definable in Law. In a few lines, we will see how it would be essential to plead to conceive poverty in a legal framework, especially through the prism of human rights. 

What is poverty?

A potential definition of poverty will depend on what aspect of poverty is taken into account. Thus, we distinguish two main approaches to poverty: an absolute approach and a relative one. According to the absolute perspective, Poverty is a lack of vital minima, such as needs of nurture, health care and education, which is due to a lack of resources. The relative approach defines the poor as those whose life condition is lower than the life of the population they belong to. But these two perspectives can’t separately explain the complexity of the notion. That is also the viewpoint of Amartya Sen, a great Indian economist, who is defending the concept that exceeds this controversy. Thus, a scientific definition is necessary for designing poverty as a combination in terms of income, human development, social exclusion and rights. 

Is poverty a violation of Human rights?

Some people think poverty is not a human right violation. Firstly, because experts don’t agree about what causes and maintains poverty. Thus, if the causes are unknown it will be impossible for Law to prevent them by enacting clear rules. Secondly, it is not possible to identify those who are responsible for human rights violations. Therefore, Law cannot reprimand them if they do not fulfill their duty. Furthermore, the distinction between people who are poor and those who are not is arbitrary. Those who are poor in a specific country can’t be considered differently in other countries.

However, we believe that the dilemma to identify those who are poor and those who are responsible for eradicating poverty can be solved, if poverty is considered as a human right violation. In that sense, it would be possible to mobilise public action and contribute to the adoption of adapted public policies by the governments.

Consequently, the poor would be those who can’t exercise their socio-economic rights. This approach is justified when we think of the mission of the human rights. Firstly, human rights, specially the socio-economic rights, tend to permit to each man and woman to exercise their economic, social and cultural rights so they can achieve the ideal of free human beings. In that sense, the general assembly of ONU adopted on 16 December 1966, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Secondly, human rights are generally identified as rights held by every person just because of his/her human nature. Then, poverty will become an urgency that requires public policies, rules, rather than compassion and charity. Therefore, the poor will be able to initiate legal action against his/her government and the persistence of poverty will become a denial of justice.

Moreover, poverty can be considered as a human right violation, because its consequences such as hunger, housing problem and illiteracy, are clearly prohibited by the article 11 of the ICESCR, which stipulates that every human being has the right to an adequate standard of living including basic income, food, housing, sanitation and clothing and the continuous improvement of living conditions.

Talking about poverty in terms of human rights violation put emphasis on the interconnection between socio-economic rights and civil and political rights that are in practice neglected. In fact, the civil and political rights can’t be turned into reality if the socio-economic rights are not respected.

Poverty is a scourge that must unceasingly be fought, and defining it as a human right violation can be a new paradigm in eradicating poverty in the world. Thus, poverty would be the impossibility to exercise the socio-economic rights. But, defining poverty as human right violation won’t be sufficient if institutions are not established to guarantee the socio-economic rights.

However, how to eradicate poverty in countries where human rights are still not recognised?




Patrick Erwin Michel has studied Law at School of Law and Economic Sciences of the State University of Haiti. He is currently preparing his final dissertation on Poverty and Human rights. He is poet, slammer and comedian; he has studied drama at National School of Arts. His area of interests includes Literature, Philosophy, Sociology, Law and Research in Social Sciences. Above all, He is convinced that education can create a better world.


One response to “Is poverty a violation of human rights?”

  1. Thanks for sharing this valuable information with us. It is really a helpful article!


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