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UNICEF Seeks to Combat Child Poverty in Former Soviet Republics - 2001-11-29

The U.N. children's agency is calling for improved education in the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe to combat rampant childhood poverty. UNICEF says 18 million children and young people live on barely $2 a day.

The U.N. children's fund says its first comprehensive review of what life is like for 108 million children living in the former Eastern bloc reveals disturbing facts.

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy says that although child mortality rates have fallen in some places, millions of children continue to suffer from poverty and poor health in the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe.

These areas experienced radical upheavals in the early 1990's, after the collapse of communism. Eight countries splintered into 27 and conflict continues in some areas. Ms. Bellamy says many people missed out on economic progress. "Increasing inequality and poverty have excluded many people from the progress of the 1990's," she said. "Among them are the millions of children living in poverty, the millions of teenagers out of school and the increasing numbers of children cared for by states rather than by their own families."

The UNICEF study, entitled, "A Decade of Transition", finds that one child in three is malnourished in Albania, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Less than half of the 15 to 18 year-olds in Central Asia attend school. UNICEF says marriage rates have fallen and that the percentage of children born out of wedlock has doubled to 22 percent. In addition, cases of HIV and AIDS are on the rise in Russia and Ukraine. Tuberculosis rates have also increased dramatically.

One of the report's authors, John Micklewright, says that improving the educational system in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is the key to tackling child poverty. "The critical thing here is education," he said. "If the access of children from poor families to high quality education is not improved, this simply perpetuates poverty from one generation to another. There is a transmission of poverty across the generations."

UNICEF says some countries simply need to spend more money on public education. It also argues that governments should spend educational funds more wisely by paying teachers higher salaries, rather than employing more teachers.

It says future economic growth in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union should benefit everyone, and a drop in the birthrate leaves no excuse for inadequate investment in children.