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18 Million Children Living in Poverty

Ex-Communist lands: Despite economic growth since socialist system collapsed, want has increased, UNICEF study finds.

November 30, 2001|From Associated Press

GENEVA — Nearly 18 million children are living in poverty in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, despite 10 years of growing economies in the region, the U.N. Children's Fund said Thursday.

The vast majority of poor children--16 million--live in former Soviet countries, UNICEF said in its 192-page report, "A Decade of Transition." In Moldova and Tajikistan, nearly three-quarters of children live on less than $2.15 a day--a World Bank yardstick for poverty.

UNICEF said that poverty has increased in the countries since the collapse of communism in 1989 but that it is impossible to make a direct comparison, because poverty statistics were not maintained before then.

"Thanks to a decade of strenuous efforts, child mortality rates have fallen in many countries. However, millions of children continue to suffer from poverty, ill health and marginalization," said Carol Bellamy, UNICEF executive director.

The study noted that one child in three is malnourished in Albania, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Less than half of 15- to 18-year-olds attend school in the Central Asian countries, compared with two-thirds in 1989.

There has been a huge increase in tuberculosis, in addition to HIV and AIDS cases, in Russia and Ukraine. The increase in the mortality rate, especially for adult men, has resulted in 3.2 million deaths that would not have occurred if rates had stayed at 1989 levels, UNICEF said.

The agency said the total number of children in the 27 countries studied--108 million--fell about 13% from 1989 as a result of a sharp drop in births. Marriage rates also fell, and the proportion of children born out of wedlock doubled to 22%.

"Fundamental freedoms have been recognized in most countries--the right to vote, to express an opinion, to use one's own initiative and enterprise. That is undeniably a source of satisfaction," 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."

UNICEF said that future economic growth in the former Communist countries should be handled in a way that will benefit everyone and that the fall in births leaves no excuse for inadequate investment in children.

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