Child poverty has grown in Eastern Europe since 1989

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The Independent Online

More children are living in poverty in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union today than when the Berlin Wall fell despite a decade of economic expansion in the region, the United Nations Children's Fund said yesterday.

In a stark 192-page report, A Decade of Transition, Unicef says nearly 18 million children in this region are living on less than $2.15 (£1.50) a day – a World Bank yardstick for poverty. It also points to a rising number of children ending up in institutions or being put up for adoption by families who are pushed into poverty when the value of their wages falls.

The children's agency says poverty has risen sharply since the countries left Communism in 1989, though no direct comparisons could be made because poverty statistics were not recorded before then.

The huge majority of the poor children – 16 million – live in former Soviet Union countries, and a further two million are in central and eastern Europe. In Moldova, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the majority of children are poor.

The report found huge disparities in the situation of children across 27 countries in the area, and called for child poverty to be made centre-stage in national policy debate.

One positive finding was that levels of child mortality were beginning to fall in some countries. "However, millions continue to suffer from poverty, ill-health and marginalisation," Carol Bellamy, Unicef's executive director, said.

The agency says the number of children in the region – 108 million – is about 13 per cent down from 1989 because of a drop in births. Marriage rates have fallen and the proportion of children born out of wedlock have doubled to 22 per cent.

Rises in adoption and institutionalisation go hand in hand, the report says, citing Belarus, where the rate of adoption rose by 160 per cent from 1989 to 1999, and the proportion of infants under three in children's homes rose by 170 per cent. Decreases in domestic adoptions in Russia were countered by rises in international adoptions.

The report found a growing gap in health conditions among the 27 countries examined. In Russia and Ukraine, for example, one child in seven was malnourished, while in Albania, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the figure rose to one in three. Falling education standards were revealed, with less than half of 15 to 18-year-olds attending secondary school in central Asia, compared with two-thirds attending in 1991.

"Fundamental freedoms have been recognised in most countries – the right to vote, to express and opinion, to use one's own initiative and enterprise," Ms Bellamy said. "But we must not forget the original goals of the transition, to raise the standard of living and to develop humane and democratic societies. These goals need to be reaffirmed."

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