2.4.6 Groups in Vulnerable Situations

Facts/messages: The concept of groups in vulnerable situations has been frequently used in social analysis and public policies to identify a set of individuals who share a common attribute that implies a critical disadvantage with regard to cultural, political, socio-economic, physiological, or life-cycle related processes. In particular, demographic vulnerability, which derives from disadvantages associated to particular demographic behaviours, is associated with the social disadvantages of poor and excluded population groups, which limit the accumulation of abilities and resources (including human capital) and hamper the management of assets by households to attain their goals or to cope with external changes. In practice, these disadvantages tend to feed back on each other. The “vicious circle of poverty” has some critical links related to the vulnerability of the poor caused by unequal conditions of reproduction, survival, gender, and habitat that ultimately hamper the capacities of individuals and the exercise of their rights for full insertion into the economy. The same “vicious circle of poverty” causes poor families, and especially women, to carry a greater child-rearing burden, even though they are in the most unfavourable material conditions to cope with the challenges that this implies. In summary, this vulnerability of the poor prevents them from developing their capacities and using the available opportunities, while exposing them to risks and difficulties that erode their possibilities of escaping from poverty.

Vulnerable groups which the PSA should consider in particular include internally displaced people, refugees and stateless people, disabled people, homeless people, sex workers, and slum dwellers. Others, such as women, the elderly, youth and adolescents, adolescent mothers, and migrants are dealt with in specific sections in the PSA. However, within these groups there are subsets that are especially vulnerable, such as young unemployed people or out-of-school street children, female– and adolescent-headed households, especially if they are responsible for bringing up children, ethnic and indigenous groups that have been traditionally marginalized, and the elderly, especially elderly widows, who do not have social security or income of some kind, etc. These groups tend to be most at risk for poverty and have the most tenuous livelihoods. Other groups that may be considered vulnerable include international migrants, internally displaced persons, farm workers with little or no land, people with serious or chronic illnesses (such as AIDS), and people facing stigma due to HIV or other health problems. The message that should emanate from the PSA is that population factors are relevant for the conditions of vulnerability of these groups, so that policies directed towards them should consider these factors.

Methodology: Given the large number of groups in vulnerable situations, only a few should be addressed in the PSA. A first criterion for selection will be the link between their vulnerability and a population-related factor. In a few instances it is sufficient for this factor to be present in order to generate vulnerability (internal displacements, refugee status, statelessness, youth in poverty, adolescents exposed to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV/AIDS or pregnancy, adolescent mothers). In many other cases it is a prerequisite but requires a convergence of other variables (such as poverty, discrimination, marginalization or a lack of protection) to generate vulnerability (poor female and adolescent-headed households, internal and international migrants who are discriminated against, young people excluded from the labour market, adolescent girls from marginalized backgrounds who are out of school and married at an early age, older adults who are unprotected, population located in high-risk areas), while in others population-related factors are merely intervening factors (unemployed people, landless farm-workers, homeless people living in the streets, etc.), and in others still the population-related factors have a remote link, if any, with vulnerability (small producers threatened by globalization, industrial workers displaced by technology, outsourced workers, informal workers, etc.). The indicators should focus on showing the size, location, and growth rate of the selected vulnerable groups and identify the population factors associated with their vulnerability through comparisons with other groups. In this case, there is no one-size-fits-all approach because both the contrast groups and the relevant indicators are specific to each vulnerable group. In the case of female-headed households with children, for example, the contrast groups can be the male-headed household with children at home or female-headed household without children to care for; relevant indicators can range from poverty at the household level to the availability of free time of the (female) household head. In the case of internally displaced persons and refugees, the contrast groups could be non-displaced or voluntary migrants and indicators of vulnerability may be those related to living and conditions and their legal status. In the case of adolescent mothers, the contrast group consists of adolescents who have never given birth and the indicators of vulnerability are those related with continued school attendance, the use of time, and levels of poverty.

Primary Sources:

  • DHS surveys;
  • National censuses (population, housing, agricultural);
  • Multipurpose surveys;
  • Surveys of living conditions, poverty and employment;
  • Refugee registration systems and national asylum application systems;
  • Time use surveys.

Secondary Source:

Tool:

  • Lamlenn B. Samson (2008). Guidance note for the in-depth analysis of data from a Population and Housing Census. Dakar, CST: section on the Situation of Handicapped Persons.