The surge in the number of poor children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia |
Impact of the war in Ukraine and subsequent economic downturn on child poverty in Eastern Europe and Central Asiawarns that the ripple effects of the surge could lead to a sharp increase in school dropouts and child mortality.
Data from 22 countries in the region show that children bear the brunt of the economic crisis caused by Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Although they make up only 25 percent of the population, they account for almost 40 percent of the additional 10.4 million people pushed into poverty this year.
“Children across the region bear the horrendous marks of this war.“, said UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Afshan Khan.
rooted in war
Triggered by the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis in the region, Russia accounts for nearly three-quarters of the increase in child poverty – an additional 2.8 million people currently live in households below the poverty line.
Ukraine has become home to half a million children living in povertythe second-largest share, followed by Romania, where there was an increase of 110,000 people, the study notes.
“In addition to the obvious horrors of war — the killing and maiming of children, mass displacement — the economic impact of the war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” Ms Khan said.
In addition to money problems
Effects child poverty extends far beyond families living in financial distress.
The surge could see another 4,500 children die before their first birthday, and learning losses could mean 117,000 children drop out of school this year alone, the study says.
“If we do not support these children and families now, a sharp increase in child poverty will almost certainly lead to the loss of lives, the loss of knowledge and the future,” a UNICEF spokesman warned.
The cycle of poverty
The poorer the family, the higher the proportion of income that must go towards food, fuel and other necessities.
The study indicates that when the cost of basic goods rises sharply, the money available for other needs such as health care and education falls.
The ensuing cost-of-living crisis means that the poorest children are even less likely to access basic services and more at risk violence, exploitation and abuse.
And for many, childhood poverty lasts a lifetime, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of adversity and deprivation.
When governments cut public spending, raise taxes, or impose austerity measures to stimulate their economies, they reduce support services for those who depend on them.
“The austerity measures will hurt children the most, pushing more children into poverty and making it harder for families who are already struggling,” Ms Khan said.
The study makes recommendations for helping those in financial distress, such as providing universal cash benefits for children; expanding social assistance to families with needy children; and protecting social spending.
It also proposes to support health, nutrition and social care services for pregnant mothers, infants and preschoolers, and to introduce price controls on basic foodstuffs for families.
Meanwhile, UNICEF is working with the EU Commission and a number of EU countries to pilot the EU Child Guarantee Initiative to mitigate the impact of poverty on children.
Need a strong answer
With more children and families falling below the poverty line, a strong response across the region is needed.
UNICEF calls for increased support to strengthen social protection systems in high- and middle-income countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia; and funding a social protection program for vulnerable children and families.
“We must protect and expand social support for vulnerable families before the situation worsens,” stressed the UNICEF Regional Director.