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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 08:49 GMT 09:49 UK
UN issues child poverty warning
By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

An Albanian girl
A young girl in Albania scavenges for rubbish to earn money
The United Nations children's fund Unicef says millions of children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are living in poverty.

A report by Unicef's research centre found that key indicators of children's welfare were not improving at all despite economic growth in the region.

Among these were infant mortality and numbers of youngsters in institutions.

The Unicef report looks at the lives of children in 27 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In some countries the report found an alarming increase in the number of children not going to school.

It finds that millions have been bypassed by the economic upturn.

In nine of the countries surveyed, 14 million out of 44 million children were living below the national poverty line.

Many are undernourished. The mortality rate for children under five is at best stagnating, and in some regions it is actually increasing.

Neither has there been any improvement in the number of children living in institutions.

Unicef says that many of these young people are disabled as a result of long years of neglect.

Education concerns

But what worries Unicef most of all is education.

The introduction of obligatory uniforms and fees for textbooks means many parents cannot afford to send their children to school.

Carol Bellamy
We have to find ways to measure the consequences of poverty. It is not enough to measure income poverty alone.
Carol Bellamy
Unicef Executive Director
Unicef's regional director Maria Calivis described a typical example, a young girl in Kyrgyzstan.

"A 10-year-old was working in the market in Bishkek.

"She is the first in her family that had never gone to school and she was proud to tell me that there were books at home and she said that her dream would be able to read one day those books."

Child poverty and lack of education are also linked to a rise in drug and alcohol abuse.

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for example, more than 2% of the population are estimated to be injecting drug users, far higher than any western European country.

The report calls on governments in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to boost expenditure on health and education.

Economic growth is worthless if there is no investment in the future, Unicef says, and that means investing in children.

At the launch of the report Unicef Executive Director Carol Bellamy said: "We have to find ways to measure the consequences of poverty, the exclusion from society, the lack of respect for human rights, the lack of choice and the scale and impact of discrimination.

"It is not enough to measure income poverty alone."

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