Ending child poverty is not a dream

By providing the necessary conditions for children through these services, we can help them achieve their full potential

Agnesa Topuzyan
Stepan and his mother in front of their home-container house.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Sokhin
27 November 2018

On 8 March, when most people in our part of the world were celebrating International Women’s Day, we set off for Vanadzor to take pictures at a partner organization. That was where we met 14-year-old Stepan, who was rushing home through wet snow to help his mother with something. His house was on our way, so we offered to give him a ride.

What we saw a little later rekindled memories of the 1988 earthquake that many of us had nearly forgotten. At the time, people who had lost their homes in the natural disaster had been given temporary shelter in so-called domiks, with the expectation that they would get new housing at a later time. But it was like nothing had changed here, as if the country’s economic growth and new investments had all bypassed this little district.

We were in a neighbourhood of domiks that had been quietly existing for the past 30 years, difficult even for our all-terrain vehicle to access in the mud and snow. Kristine, the 32-year-old mother, was impatiently waiting for her 14-year-old son to return. It was humid and frosty, they needed to light their wood stove to warm up the house and keep out the cold.

Stepan heating the house with wood.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Sokhin
Stepan, 14 with his mother Kristine live in extreme poverty in the outskirts of city of Vanadzor, Armenia. UNICEF supports the reunification of children from transformed residential care institutions back with their families through family assistance packages and case management practices.

Our visit was a surprise, but the domik was neat and tidy despite being in bad shape. We talked about how the family was managing to get along. We learned that every single day was a struggle to survive for Kristine and her son.

“I can’t believe that in the 21st century, someone can be forced to take a loan from a bank in order to buy food, keep a roof over one’s head, get clothes or pay for medical services,” Kristine said emotionally. The small allowance they receive from social services goes straight to the bank to pay off their debt.

Despite the fact that poverty reduction—particularly combating child poverty—has been one of the priorities of the government of Armenia since the 1990s, every third child lives in poverty in the country today. If we convert this to numbers, then we see that child poverty impacts 34.2% of the country’s population, with 2% living in extreme poverty (based on data from 2016). Unfortunately, no major drops in the poverty level have been registered since 2008.

The story grew even more miserable when several other details about the family emerged. The child’s gait suggested that he was afflicted by a progressing disability that was growing worse every day. His eyes grew moist when he mentioned the years he had spent at a boarding school for poor children, and a special school for those with disabilities… It finally struck us that it was going to be very difficult to break the cycle of poverty that had been tightening around this family for decades. It was this cycle that had led to Stepan’s deprivation on multiple fronts, including a lack of access to healthcare services, education, food, water, hygiene and decent housing conditions.

I remember how proudly the mother said that she and her child had received support to cover their food and utility costs for one year from UNICEF’s partner NGO Aravot. But support of this kind is not a sustainable solution to the problem. The infectious cycle of poverty can only be broken if everyone acts – the government, civil society organizations, researchers, citizens and the children themselves. And this is not simply a dream.

It is not simply a dream because the main character in this story, Stepan, continues to go to school despite all his problems. He is taking the first big steps to escape the cycle of poverty. In addition, he is also getting support from non-government organizations that help him with his school lessons. This support, although important, is just a drop in the ocean. The important factors in the battle to defeat child poverty include –

  1. Securing the accessibility and affordability of quality services in healthcare, education, and nutrition for the most vulnerable children so the impact of multidimensional poverty is mitigated for this group. By providing the necessary conditions for children through these services, we can help them achieve their full potential and grow to escape the cycle of poverty.
  2. Supporting families and households to make a minimum level of income and prevent financial difficulties from damaging children’s development.
Stepan and his mother smiling and looking to each other with love.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Sokhin
Securing the accessibility and affordability of quality services in healthcare, education, and nutrition for the most vulnerable children so the impact of multidimensional poverty is mitigated for this group.

The years of deprivation have not had a negative impact on the relationship between this mother and her child. The hope and faith present in their souls has not diminished. They have faith that a better day will come and they will no longer have trouble securing their daily bread, and the hope that Stepan’s future family will grow in better conditions.