Eastern Europe and Central Asia: millions of children bypassed by economic progress
Launch of the Innocenti Social Monitor 2004
According to UNICEF’s Innocenti Social Monitor 2004, 14 million out of 44 million children across nine countries with available data were living in poverty in 2001 as measured by national standards.
“Children are being bypassed by economic progress in this region and poverty is distorting childhood,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy at the launch of the report in Moscow. “Poverty 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. Poverty is shredding the social fabric of these new societies.
The report shows that economic growth rarely goes hand in hand with action to tackle the region’s growing social disparities, she said.
“This raises two key questions: First, what is economic growth for, if it does not benefit children? Second, why are so many countries failing to systematically measure child poverty – a critical indicator of the success or failure of their social and economic policies and, indeed, of their prospects for a better future,” said Bellamy.
Employment statistics should focus on children living in households where nobody is employed, or where earnings are low, the report suggests, and for incentives that ensure access to social services to make it easier for families to relocate to areas with high employment.
“We have to find ways to measure the consequences of poverty,” Bellamy said, “the exclusion from society, the lack of respect for human rights, the lack of choice and the scale and impact of discrimination. 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.”
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 attend 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.
UNICEF works with families and communities in the region to tackle the fallout of poverty: the institutionalisation of children, the trafficking, and the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse, especially HIV. But systemic change - policy and legislative reform to protect all children and all their rights - is the cornerstone of UNICEF’s programme with governments and the surest route to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in each country.
* * *
NOTE TO EDITORS
NOTE TO BROADCASTERS
UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence