Conflicts, economic crises deepen inequalities among children: UNICEF

Fri, 10 Mar 2023 7:34 GMT
About 22M children in Europe, Central Asia living below national poverty lines, says UN agency.
Conflicts, economic crises deepen inequalities among children: UNICEF

About 22M children in Europe, Central Asia living below national poverty lines, says UN agency.

The ongoing war in Ukraine, natural disasters, and rising inflation have driven millions more children into poverty throughout Europe and Central Asia over the last two years, a new report by the UN children's agency UNICEF showed on Thursday.

The report highlighted deepening inequalities and urged countries to put in place systems to support children at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

"The war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and the current economic and energy crisis have plunged many families into uncertainty, affecting their wellbeing and that of their children," said Afshan Khan, UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia.

"However, lack of data on how these events have affected children's rights makes it difficult to assess how we can meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and families so that no child in the region is left behind," Khan added.

“The Europe and Central Asia region has one of the highest rates of children separated from their families and children in residential care worldwide,” the report said.

The data shows that Roma children and children with disabilities are “disproportionately” represented in residential care.

In Ukraine, conflict is having a devastating impact on children, the report said, adding that they have witnessed and experienced “unimaginable consequences” of the war.

By December 2022, more than 7.2 million children inside and outside Ukraine urgently needed humanitarian assistance.

In 2021, 24% of children (19.6 million) in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared with 21% of adults.

The highest proportion of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion was recorded in Romania (42%), Spain (33%), and Bulgaria (33%).

Conversely, the lowest proportion was reported in Slovenia (11%), Finland (13%), and the Czech Republic (13%).

The COVID-19 pandemic severely affected routine immunization services, with 95% of countries showing backsliding in immunization coverage, the report said.

As a result, it added, almost 1 million children in the region do not receive their scheduled vaccinations every year.

The pandemic has also affected children's emotional and mental wellbeing, as suicide is now the second leading cause of death in high-income countries in Europe and Central Asia, the report said.

Many families must use significant amounts of their own money to pay for health care.

Out-of-pocket expenditure

High out-of-pocket expenditure, a core indicator of health financing systems, can have a catastrophic impact on family income, particularly those already poor, the report said, adding that such expenditure ranges between 5% in Monaco and 85% in Armenia.

The disparities in health care for children are vast.

Although the European and Central Asian region includes countries with the lowest number of infant and child deaths globally, the region also has some countries with higher under-five mortality rates than the global average, according to the report.

Moreover, mortality rates vary not only between but also within nations.

More than half of deaths among children under five in the region are due to preventable and treatable diseases through simple, affordable, and proven measures, the report said.

The leading causes of newborn deaths are prematurity, low birth weight, infections, asphyxia, birth trauma, and congenital abnormalities, it added.

Two-thirds of newborn deaths could be prevented if effective health interventions were provided during pregnancy, birth, and the first week of life, the report said.

Inadequate water quality, sanitation, and hygiene in some of the regions' countries also contribute to poor health outcomes.

"Moreover, contamination of the water used for drinking, hygiene, and recreation, including microbial contamination, is a significant concern throughout the region," the report said.


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