Why unequal progress is leaving millions of children behind in Europe and Central Asia: 6 facts
In Europe and Central Asia, a staggering number of children continue to be left behind, experiencing poverty, discrimination, abuse, exploitation, and violence. Learn 6 pressing facts for children’s rights in the region.
A new UNICEF report highlights that many children in Europe and Central Asia live below the poverty line, lack equal access to quality services, and suffer discrimination, abuse, exploitation, and violence. The report “Situation of Children in Europe and Central Asia” reflects on how a global pandemic, natural disasters and ongoing conflicts over the last two years have impacted the well-being of an increasing number of families and children across the region, leaving them more vulnerable to disparities.
Learn 6 facts about children’s rights in the region.
In a region with a child population of 197 million, about one-fifth lives in poverty. The war in Ukraine and the ongoing economic and energy crisis have plunged many families into financial uncertainty, affecting their well-being and that of their children. The impact of poverty on children can have long-lasting consequences, as it affects their access to basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, and education, health, protection, and emotional well-being.
UNICEF works with governments and other partners across Europe and Central Asia to strengthen social protection systems to diminish the impact of poverty on children’s lives. We gather and analyse evidence on what works, and model innovative approaches that reach the most vulnerable children. We also support national efforts to monitor child poverty, making it possible to track progress across the region.
1 million children do not receive all recommended vaccines
Over 1 million children in the region do not receive all recommended vaccines every year. This means these children are at increased risk of preventable diseases like measles, polio, and other vaccine preventable diseases.
In Europe and Central Asia, remarkable efforts have been made to roll out COVID-19 vaccines and maintain routine immunisation during the pandemic. This was done through increased investments in cold chain and digital information systems, procurement of vaccines, risk communication and community engagement, as well as the expansion of home visiting programmes.. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a backsliding in childhood vaccinations in 60% of the countries in the region.
The number of people on the move due to conflict, climate change, and food insecurity has increased significantly in recent years.
By 2021, Türkiye was already hosting more than 3.6 million refugees from Syria, including 1.7 million children. The war in Ukraine has also increased displacement across the region, with an estimated 3.9 million children registered as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Since the escalation of the war in Ukraine, UNICEF has been working with national and local governments in 19 countries hosting refugee families and children from Ukraine to help them access education, protection, health, and other essential services. This was done by tapping into or increasing the capacity of existing systems at national and sub-national level, as well as establishing strategic partnerships with municipalities and local non-profit organizations.
11 million children with disabilities
Many children with disabilities face multiple challenges that begin with a lack of early detection and diagnosis of their conditions. Their difficulties only compound from there, with many being excluded from education and their communities. These widespread issues affect approximately 11 million children with disabilities in the region, who are particularly vulnerable to stigma and discrimination.
UNICEF has been working with countries in Europe and Central Asia to make schools inclusive and child-focused and remove barriers to learning and participation for disabled children. In the Western Balkans and Türkiye, UNICEF has participated in multi-sectoral platforms advocating for the transformation of the system of assessment and referral of children with disabilities, which is the first step in ensuring these children have access to a range of social services for themselves and their families.
The disparities in healthcare for children are vast. Although Europe and Central Asia region 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 deaths among children under five in the region are due to preventable and treatable diseases. Two-thirds of new-born deaths could be prevented if and effective health interventions were provided during pregnancy, birth, and the first week of life.
With the support of UNICEF, several countries in the region have expanded the newborn and vaccination services provided at community health centers, and through home visiting programmes. These efforts have been key to increasing the rate of immunisation of children against the most common childhood diseases, one of the key steps toward reducing infant and child mortality.
4 out of 5 children in the region are breathing polluted air
Air pollution is one of the most significant environmental risks to children in the region. It is estimated that 83% of children in the region breathe polluted air (exposed to ambient air pollution). This can have serious and long-lasting consequences on health later in life and can lead to respiratory issues like asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues.
Besides air pollution, climate change is becoming a severe threat in the region, with natural disasters such as floods and landslides becoming more frequent and intense and threatening children's safety and wellbeing. With rising temperatures, heat waves are becoming more common, affecting most of those already vulnerable due to poverty, poor health, or living in urban areas with high levels of air pollution.
Through the UPSHIFT programme, UNICEF has been working with local youth organizations in Europe and Central Asia to develop creative solutions to solve local environmental challenges. From vertical gardens in Kosovo* to planting robots in Uzbekistan, ideas have turned into reality, and young people into social entrepreneurs. The UPSHIFT programme also offers an opportunity for young people to develop their ‘green skills,’ their understanding of climate change and how to mitigate its negative impacts, as well as empower adolescents to advocate for change.
*all references to Kosovo shall be understood under UNSCR1244