One youngster in three still lives in poverty in Eastern Europe and Central Asia despite economic progress in every country, revealing a stark absence of initiatives to tackle the serious social disparities affecting children in those regions, a report released today by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) finds.
Of the 44 million children living in nine countries with available data, 14 million were living in poverty in 2001 as measured by national standards, according to the Innocenti Social Monitor 2004.
“Children are being bypassed by economic progress in this region and poverty is distorting their childhood,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said at the report’s launch in Moscow.
The report highlights the gaps between rich and poor within the 27 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as between the more prosperous countries of Central Europe and the poorer countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. It examines how unemployment affects children: in some countries, including Bulgaria and Poland, large numbers of children are growing up in families where neither parent is employed.
Employment statistics should focus on children living in households where nobody is employed, or where earnings are low, the report suggests. Incentives are needed to ensure access to social services to make it easier for families to relocate to areas with high employment.
The report also finds that across the region, the poor often pay for health and education services that are meant to be free, while unemployment benefits and family allowances fail to keep pace with their needs. Recent data show that in Uzbekistan, fewer than 7 in 10 poor children receive basic schooling.
Governments often measure poverty against a national subsistence minimum – the amount of money a household is estimated to need to buy a minimum “basket” of goods and services. The report argues that such baskets reflect the judgement of policy-makers. A recent study in Kazakhstan found that housing could not be met by the agreed minimum. In Georgia, the national minimum does not reflect seasonal variations in food prices, so even those living at or above the national poverty level may be malnourished.
“We have to find ways to measure the consequences of poverty – the exclusion from society, the lack of respect for human rights, the lack of choice and the scale and impact of discrimination,” Ms. Bellamy said. “We need well-defined and regularly updated poverty lines that capture the constant changes in child poverty. It is not enough to measure income poverty alone.”