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18 million children in poverty in SE Europe

Some 18 million children are still living in extreme poverty in the countries of southeastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States – most of them former Soviet bloc nations.

Even though the region’s economic recovery has improved conditions for most adults, the ‘Innocenti Social Monitor 2006’ report shows that many children are not seeing similar benefits.

The study was released today by the Innocenti Research Centre, the main research arm of UNICEF.

According to the report, one in four children in the region lives in a household with a daily income of less than $2.15. Many are deprived of clean water, education or good nutrition, although there is a lack of data and more information on these indicators is needed.

Disparities in child poverty

The report aims to highlight the importance of addressing children’s specific needs, raising their profile and examining the differing impact of poverty on children compared to adults. It concludes that governments are not spending enough money on children, though there are large disparities among the 20 countries studied.

For example, in Bulgaria, where children comprise just 20 per cent of the population, the child poverty rate is 8 per cent. But in parts of Central Asia and the Caucasus, more than half the children are living in poverty.

Children in large households or rural areas also have a higher risk of being poor.

A girl from the Roma ethnic group holds an infant as she sits begging on the curb of a street in Georgia.

Between 1998 and 2003, when the region experienced major economic and political transition, the number of children under 15 living in extreme poverty decreased from 32 million to 18 million. But the decline stems partly from falling birth rates and the fact that the child population has dropped by 11 million. Overall levels of public expenditure on health and education remain low in many of the countries.

Investing in development

“While the economic story may be positive by GDP averages, behind the averages one in four children is living in extreme poverty,” noted UNICEF Regional Communication Advisor Lynn Geldof. “This situation should be of major concern to governments in a region of plunging birth rates and an aging population.

“Unless child poverty, specifically, is addressed in policies, budgets and social services, the upward trends in the economy will be short-lived,” Ms. Geldof warned.

‘Social Monitor 2006’ concludes that a focus on reducing child poverty, disadvantages and disparities is a key investment for countries in the region if they are to meet the development challenges that lie ahead. Healthy, competitive societies, the report suggests, are created by children who grow up with the opportunities to thrive.

ENDS

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