Conflict, COVID-19, climate and economic crises deepen inequalities among children in Europe and Central Asia – UNICEF

UNICEF warns that unequal progress in the region is leaving millions of vulnerable and poor children behind

08 March 2023

Geneva, 9 March 2023 – A global pandemic, natural disasters and ongoing conflicts over the last two years have impacted the wellbeing of an increasing number of families and children across Europe and Central Asia, leaving them more vulnerable to disparities, according to a new UNICEF report published today.

“Situation Analysis of Children Rights in Europe and Central Asia: Unequal progress, Children left behind spotlights deepening inequalities and urges countries to put in place sound systems to support children at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The report is the first of its kind to bring together existing data and analysis for all countries in the region, while highlighting critical data gaps that need to be filled.

“The war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the current economic and energy crisis have plunged many families into uncertainty, affecting their well-being and that of their children,” Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, said.  “However, lack of data of how these events have affected children’s rights makes it difficult to assess how we can meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and families, so that no child in the region is left behind”.

The study paints a worrying picture of disparities in access to health and education for the poorest and most vulnerable children. Roma children and an estimated 11 million children with disabilities are among the most disadvantaged when it comes to access to quality education. While Roma children in Europe are more likely to drop out of school at either primary or secondary level without having acquired foundational skills, children with disabilities remain excluded from school and high-quality learning altogether.

The disparities in healthcare for children are vast. Although the Europe and Central Asia includes countries with the lowest number of infant and child deaths globally, some countries experience higher under-five mortality rates than the global average. More than half of these deaths are due to preventable and treatable diseases.

The Europe and Central Asia region has one of the highest rates of children separated from their families and children in residential care worldwide. The available data shows that Roma children and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented in residential care.

The COVID-19 pandemic severely affected routine immunisation services, with 95 per cent of countries showing backsliding in immunisation coverage. As a result, every year, almost 1 million children in the region do not receive their scheduled vaccinations.

The pandemic has also taken a toll on children’s emotional and mental wellbeing, as suicide is now the second leading cause of death in high-income countries in Europe and Central Asia, the report says.

Air pollution is the single most significant environmental risk in the region. It is estimated that four out of five children breathe polluted air in Europe and Central Asia. Communities also lack the knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change.

Apart from the unprecedented numbers of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, the number of refugees and migrants from other parts of the world arriving in Europe and Central Asia continues to increase, stretching the capacities of host governments to sustain equal access to quality basic services. Gaps include accommodation and sanitation facilities, health and protection services, learning opportunities, measures to prevent and address gender-based violence, and care and support for unaccompanied and separated children.

Since the launch of last year’s report “The impact of the war in Ukraine and subsequent economic downturn on child poverty in Eastern Europe and Central Asia”, UNICEF has been calling for continued and expanded support to strengthen social protection systems across Europe and Central Asia; and the prioritisation of funding for social protection programmes, including cash assistance programmes for vulnerable children and families.

By providing an up-to-date snapshot of children in Europe and Central Asia, UNICEF urges national systems across the region – including education, health, child protection, and social welfare systems – to meet the needs of every child, especially the most vulnerable, as well as prioritise children in the collection and analysis of data.


Note to media:

The information and data in the report represent the entire Europe and Central Asia region whenever it is possible. However, due to data availability and diverse monitoring systems, reference is sometimes made to sub-regions or the 22 countries with a UNICEF country programme.

Media contacts

Iryna Mazur
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia
Chiara Frisone
Tel: +41 766 908 465


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