Over 300,000 Serbian children live in or at risk of poverty, UNICEF reports
There are still over 300,000 children in Serbia who are living in poverty or are at risk of poverty despite important steps that have been taken to improve the situation since the late 1990s, according to a new United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report.
“The future of Serbia depends on a healthy and educated generation, which requires inclusive policies that target specifically the poor and excluded children and a better use of resources,” UNICEF Serbia Representative Ann-Lis Svensson said.
The State of Children in Serbia 2006 Report – Poor and Excluded Children, produced jointly by the Republic Statistical Office in Serbia, the Council for Child Rights of the Republic of Serbia and UNICEF Belgrade Office, finds that over 155,000 children are poor and an additional 155,000 are at risk of falling below the poverty line.
These are the children who due to material, social and cultural deprivation are limited in the realization of their rights to education, healthcare, equal development and protection. Analysis of data from rural and urban areas, from households of different sizes and structures reveal significant disparities within the country.
The largest percentage of children who are above the average risk of poverty are those from large families, those living in rural areas, especially Southeast and Western Serbia, children belonging to certain minority groups, particularly Roma, and internally displaced and refugee children.
These youngsters are growing up beyond the reach of development and are often invisible in everything from public debate and laws, to statistics and news stories.
Over 80 per cent of Roma children living in Roma settlements are poor and practically all indicators point to their unacceptable deprivation and multidimensional discrimination, UNICEF said. They more often suffer from illness and stunting as a result of malnutrition and hunger, with four times as many Roma children stunted compared to the national average.
Surveys indicate that infant and under five mortality rates are three times higher among Roma children than in the general population. These children have to take on adult roles due to lack of government assistance, often live in slums or cardboard and tin houses and have little access to services. Overall, only 33 per cent of children attend pre-school institutions, but this is drastically lower among Roma children – only 4 per cent.
Six per cent of children living under the poverty line do not go to primary school and only 13 per cent of Roma children complete primary school. One of the most often cited reasons for non-attendance is poverty. And yet, education is a key area for breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty and exclusion.
Children with disabilities are not only excluded from the healthcare and educational system, but are also exposed to isolation and non acceptance by the community.
The report also notes that corporal punishment of children is still present in both the family and in schools, and that other forms of violence are also frequent. Interfering in inter-family relationships is still considered unacceptable, and it seems that there is still insufficient public condemnation of ‘disciplining’ children. A significant number of children are exposed to violence from peers, and also to violent behaviour from teachers.