Child poverty in South-East Europe, Central Asia clouds region’s future – UN report

Child begging on a street

18 October 2006 – Although the number of children under 15 living in extreme poverty in South-Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States has dropped from 32 million to 18 million since the late ‘90s, governments must increase their health and education budgets to ensure regional prosperity, according to a United Nations report released today.

“Child poverty should be the number one concern of governments in the region,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director Maria Calivis said at the report’s launch in Helsinki, Finland.

“Children continue to be placed in institutions, the numbers are not decreasing, and this despite a sharp decline in the birth rate. The future of the region is inextricably bound to the well-being of children. If the true potential of all these countries is to be achieved, there must be adequate investment in services for children,” she added.

The report – the Innocenti Social Monitor 2006: Understanding Child Poverty in South-Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States – finds that despite the widespread economic upturn in the region and the large drop in children living in extreme poverty, stark disparities in child well-being and opportunities persist.

The share of children living in extreme poverty ranges from 5 per cent in some South-Eastern European countries to a startling 80 per cent in the poorest Central Asia nations, according to the study produced by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, Italy.

With the future of the region depending on a healthy and educated generation, it calls for a better use of resources and more generous support from the international community, including more public spending on social services such as health and education; higher levels of social transfers to families with young children; and a shift away from the widespread practice of placing children in institutions to supporting families in crisis.

“Income poverty and deprivation have a distinct impact on children. They affect their immediate present and compromise their long term development,” Innocenti Research Centre Director Marta Santos Pais said. “To tackle poverty and inequalities among children, policies and resources must be urgently directed towards children.”

Progress in improving other aspects of child well-being such as child mortality rates, pre-school attendance and access to safe water has been sluggish and many governments’ social spending has not reflected the economic upswing to benefit children, the report notes. Overall levels of public expenditure on health and education remain low in many countries and have not increased since 1998, despite the economic recovery.

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