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Disparities affecting children cloud economic good news story

Despite widespread economic upturn in South-Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (SEE/CIS) since the late ‘90s, one in four children under 15 is still living in extreme income poverty according to a UNICEF report.

The Innocenti Social Monitor 2006: Understanding Child Poverty in South-Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States finds that while the number of children under 15 living in extreme poverty has decreased from 32 million to 18 million, stark disparities in child well-being and opportunities exist: the share of children now living in extreme poverty ranges from 5 per cent in some SEE countries to a startling 80 per cent in the poorest Central Asia countries.

Analysis of data from rural and urban settings, from households of different sizes and structures, throws up disparities within countries that particularly affect children in families where there are more than two siblings.

Official data for Bosnia and Herzegovina say that extreme poverty (persons with annual consumption bellow 772 BAM per capita) is not reported, but that because of statistical probability can be supposed that it is less than 5 per cent.   Based on absolute poverty line (persons with annual consumption bellow 2223 BAM per capita), among the poorest group in BIH, as reported in the official government report from 2004, are families with three and more siblings (66 % households are poor), refugees and displaced persons (37% families are poor), households with two children (32% families are poor) , families in which the head of the household is younger than 25 (29 of them are poor), unemployed and families in which the head of the household has only primary education (25%).

Direct income support in the form of state transfers for households with children are widespread in the region, much occurring in the form of pensions. However, income support targeted on children is often of too low value to have a significant impact on poverty reduction “Child poverty should be the number one concern of governments in the region,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CEE/CIS). “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 fact that increase of family leads a family to poverty in BIH is alarming. Additionally alarming is the fact that the risk of falling into poverty, for families with two or more children, is increasing in the last several years.

In 2005/2006, Economic Policy and Planning Unit (EPPU) BIH, together with UNICEF and Save the Children UK, have undertaken a research on socio-economic policy impact to child rights. The first step was to assess the impact of eventual increase in electricity price to benefit of children and families. In the research the parents agreed that increase of price of electricity would predominantly affect habits and living standards of children.” In our everyday life, everything affects children. They feel the irresponsibility and immaturity of adults who decide on their behalf.” “The increase in price of electricity affect young people the most, because parents, maybe not knowingly, begin economizing on clothing, schooling, even provisions.” “Children suffer because of poverty...Chidren already do not have normal conditions for development (education, nutrition, hygiene, leisure time and similar)“  – these are some statements of parents who participated in the research. One of the boys  who participated in the focus groups discussion told a story about his schoolmate who had to leave the school after the first year because he couldn't afford to buy books, shoes, transportation and other necessities. He went to visit him in his village and he found him keeping sheep. One of the fathers in Mostar, who has a child with special needs said in the research that in case of increase in price of electricity „he couldn't afford the hearing device for his child, which would affect him significantly. His schooling would be questionable, because he couldn't hear, and all progress so far would be diminished.“ Interviewed representatives of educational institutions believe that changes in using electricity caused by increase in price would affect quality and duration of classes. In some elementary schools, school representatives even mentioned effects of economizing electricity expenditure, for example through shortening the classes.

The UNICEF’s Social Monitor 2006 report argues that the future of the region depends on a healthy and educated generation, which will require a better use of resources and more generous support from the international community.

To address the challenges posed by the persistence of child poverty in the region, the report calls on governments to work towards:
• More visibility for children in setting policy priorities and poverty reduction strategies. It requires timely collection, analysis and dissemination of data and research on the situation of children;

• More and better public spending on social services (health, education and social infrastructure); reforms of the budget allocation principles to ensure adequately resources targeted in those regions and population groups most in need;

• Better targeting and higher levels of social transfers to families with young children in order to provide effective protection from poverty and discourage institutionalization;

• A policy shift away from the widespread practice of placing children in institutions in some countries of the region, as well as a firm statement of intent to devote more policy efforts and resources to provide social support for families in crisis UNICEF works with families and communities in the region to mitigate the fallout of poverty.

Policy and legislative reforms to protect all children and all their rights are the cornerstone of UNICEF’s programme with governments to support the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and achieve the Millennium Development Goals in each country.



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