Ending child poverty

UNICEF advocates for greater national investments in social protection and supports government efforts to track and monitor progress on poverty reduction.


The challenge

Countries in Europe and Central Asia have seen impressive economic growth over the past 20 years, alongside improved standards of living and a halving of the number of people living in poverty. But progress has masked persistent equity gaps, with the benefits of economic advances shared unevenly. 

Children are more likely to be poor than adults. And some children are more likely to be poor than others, particularly children with disabilities, children from larger families and those in remote rural areas. Roma children also suffer disproportionately from poverty and remain one of the poorest groups in the region: a Roma child is twice as likely to grow up in poverty as a non-Roma child. 

The legacy of child poverty can last a lifetime.

Poverty in childhood can have life-long consequences, with the poorest children less likely to access health care or complete their education and more likely to suffer from poor nutrition.

Children who do not reach their full potential cannot contribute fully to social, political and economic growth, and those who grow up in poverty are more likely to be poor when they are older, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and disadvantage. 

It is in every government’s long-term interest to invest in children and in child-sensitive social protection to prevent, manage and overcome the poverty that threatens their well-being. Social protection includes cash transfers, such as child benefits to shield children from the worst impacts of poverty, as well as integrated systems to provide vulnerable children and families with the extra support and care they need. 

Too many children are still denied social protection to ease the impact of poverty. 

While there has been an increase in social protection to meet the needs of children in the region, too many are still being left behind. Governments are cutting their spending on social protection, with benefits for children and families being eroded by austerity measures in the wake of the global financial crisis. 

On average, only around 10 per cent of social protection expenditure in the region goes to child and family benefits. Those benefits are usually too small to lift families out of poverty, and many people in need are still excluded from them entirely.   

The roots of the problem lie in a mix of: 

  • a failure to prioritize the social protection programmes that have the greatest benefits for children
  • limited budgets and human resources 
  • barriers such as bureaucratic processes and lack of information about entitlements and programmes, and
  • discrimination against the most vulnerable people, including those who receive social protection.

The result: the most vulnerable children in the region are not being reached by benefits to which they are entitled.

The solution

All children have the right to a standard of living that ensures their full development. That is why UNICEF supports governments as they attempt to shield children from the impact of poverty and deprivation. 

Aiming for an end to poverty – in line with Sustainable Development Goal 1 – we work with governments and other partners across the region to halve child poverty by 2030 and strengthen social protection systems to diminish the impact of poverty on their lives. 

We gather and analyse evidence on what works, pushing to translate that evidence into concrete policies and actions for children, especially the most disadvantaged. We also support national efforts to monitor child poverty, making it possible to track progress across the region. 

We look beyond monetary poverty.

We also innovate, looking beyond monetary poverty to the wider well-being of children and their families. One prime example is our collaboration with the World Bank on the Listening to Tajikistan (L2TJK) survey. This monitors life satisfaction to provide vital information on the kinds of ‘shocks’ that can undermine family well-being, including illness, medical expenses, food shortages or migration – crucial factors that are missed by traditional surveys focused solely on income. 

UNICEF’s Social Monitor report provides unique perspectives on children’s living conditions and vulnerability and has played a pivotal role in shaping economic and social policy and debate across the region. 

A cross-sectoral approach to tackle child poverty.

Our support for government efforts are guided by our Social Protection Strategy, which promotes child-sensitive social protection that is led by governments and integrated across sectors, including health, nutrition and education. The Strategy aims to tackle the many challenges faced by vulnerable children, which are rarely limited to lack of income. 

This work improves the lives of children in two ways. First, we promote social assistance benefits that can increase living standards and reduce child poverty, focusing on outreach to ensure that the most marginalized and vulnerable people are able to access the benefits to which they are entitled. Second, we promote social transfer systems that dovetail with other services to ensure that marginalized children and adolescents have access to health care, education, job training and HIV/AIDS programmes. 

In Georgia, for example, our work with the Government and the World Bank has supported a major increase in social benefits for children. Georgia introduced a child benefit in 2015, which reached more than 153,000 children under the age of 16 in 2016. More than half of these qualified for the benefit as a result of a methodology developed by UNICEF and partners.  

Headshot of a Roma girl looking directly at the camera

Roma children

The Roma are one of Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged minority groups. Of the 10 to 12 million Roma people in Europe, around two-thirds live in central and eastern European countries. While some have escaped from poverty, millions live in slums and lack the basic services they need, from healthcare and education to electricity and clean water. 

Many Roma children are excluded from the services and support enjoyed by others. In line with our mandate to prioritize the most marginalized children and empower communities, UNICEF upholds their rights by addressing their lack of opportunities.