13 October, 2004, Launch of Social Monitor 2004
STATEMENT BY CAROL BELLAMY
Moscow, 11.00, Wednesday, 13 October
UNICEF has monitored the impact of social and economic change on the children of the 27 countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltics for more than a decade. Our most startling revelation, given the scale of those changes and the need for countries to make the most of every resource, is the patchy information on their greatest resource of all – their own children. Without this, it is difficult, if not impossible, to fully assess trends in child poverty.
This report, the Innocenti Social Monitor 2004, pulls together some of what we know. We know that millions of children in this region still live in poverty, despite economic progress in every country. This shows – if any demonstration were needed – that economic growth alone does not automatically improve life for all children. What is more, the report finds that economic growth rarely goes hand in hand with action to tackle poverty and social exclusion.
We know that in the nine countries with comparable data on child poverty, 14 million out of 44 million children lived below national poverty lines in 2001.
This raises two key questions: First, what is economic growth for, if it does not benefit children? Second, why are many countries in the region failing to systematically measure child poverty – a critical indicator of the success or failure of their policies and their prospects for a better future?
Many parents are among the long-term unemployed, and the results for their children are grim. Infant mortality rates are higher in areas of very high unemployment. And spending on vital public services is still too low. Across the region, the public services that can help to lift people out of poverty, such as health care, are worst in the areas of highest unemployment and lowest incomes. The poor often pay for health and education services that are meant to be free, while unemployment benefits and family allowances are failing to keep pace with their needs.
In Russia, child poverty has fallen a little since 2000, but the numbers are still huge, with three in every ten children below the poverty line in 2002 – 8.6 million children.
Such vast figures are hard to comprehend. But the toll is clear. As this report stresses, child poverty is not just about lack of money. Poverty distorts childhood. It means poor nutrition and sick children. It means children unable to go to school because they cannot afford books, uniforms or bus fares. At worst, poverty means violence and desperation, with more children in institutions and soaring drug and alcohol abuse among the young.
The result is thousands of individual tragedies. The parents who face such hardship that they put their children into long-term residential care. The parents who leave their children by going to another country so that those same children can have some quality of life. Albania and Armenia have lost more than one quarter of their populations to migration. Some parents have taken their children with them. Some have left then behind
It is clear that something is very wrong when the young pay for long-term social exclusion and poverty through lost education, poor health and, sometimes, with their lives. Across this region, young people are, increasingly, turning to alcohol and drugs. More and more young lives are being cut short as a result of violence, accidents, poisoning, suicide and homicide. If death rates from injuries were the same in this region as they are in Western Europe, 34,000 fewer young men and women would die each year. Here in the Russian Federation, one in 30 boys aged 15 in 1993 did not live to see their 25th birthday. That is a terrible waste.
Poverty is shredding the social fabric of these new societies and undermining their chances of reaching the Millennium Development Goals, particularly on poverty reduction. In this region, as across the world, children account for most of the poor, and policies for poverty reduction must explicitly address their situation.
With this report, UNICEF calls for clear and updated poverty lines that can capture the constant changes in child poverty. It is not enough to measure income poverty alone. We have to find ways to measure its consequences – exclusion from society, lack of respect for human rights, lack of choice and the scale and impact of discrimination.
We are calling for employment statistics that focus on children living in households where nobody is employed, or where earnings are low. We want to see incentives to help families relocate to areas with high employment, and measures to ensure that they have access to health and education services when they get there.
Every child must have an equal chance of reaching his or her full potential. As parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, all Governments in the region recognise the right of every child to a standard of living that adequately provides for their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. They are obliged to help parents to implement this right, and to provide material help.
UNICEF is playing its part. We work with families and communities to tackle the fallout of poverty – the institutionalisation of children, the trafficking, and the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse, especially HIV. Our programmes focus on the poorest, the most vulnerable and excluded.
In the Russian Federation, for example, we bolster the defences against poverty – good health, a decent education and protection against neglect, exploitation, violence and abuse. In Ukraine, as you have seen, we support halfway houses that give hope to young, poverty-stricken mothers who might otherwise abandon their babies to institutional care. In Romania, we support shelters where trafficking victims find a safe place to stay, a place where they can heal before going out in to the world again.
However, more investment in basic social services is needed and this must be accompanied by legal reform and protection measures that reach the poorest. That is why UNICEF is in there with Governments, pushing for system change, pushing for policies and legislation to protect children and their rights. We seek to place child rights at the heart of the region’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. This is the only way in which governments can deliver on the Millennium Development Goal of poverty reduction.
Let me finish by thanking the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre for this report, which sets out challenges that must be met. Tomorrow, experts from Innocenti will meet experts on poverty and migration here in Moscow to discuss the implications of this report and the action needed. I’m delighted that the report is being put to such good and immediate use.