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Economic Growth in Former Soviet Union Bypasses Millions of Children  - 2004-10-13


A report released in Moscow by the United Nation's Children's Fund says economic growth in Russia and the former Soviet Republics has not improved the lives of children.

The UNICEF report finds that millions of children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia still live in poverty, despite economic progress in every country of the so-called transition nations, which are moving from centralized to market economies.

UNICEF officials say the report shows that economic growth alone is not enough to improve the lives of children.

Anna Chernyahovskaya, a spokesperson for UNICEF's office in Moscow says children bypassed by economic growth are affected in numerous ways.

"Poverty means violence and desperation," said Ms. Chernyahovskaya. "It means children don't have access to school. For example, there are families that don't have enough money to buy school supplies, to get textbooks and uniforms, and it also means they don't have access to school because there are basically no schools around in the area, if we talk about the remote areas of Russia for example. And also, poverty could mean and it means actually poor nutrition and poor health."

Ms. Chernyahovskaya says that across the region, poverty has also led to a significant increase in drug and alcohol abuse, which in turn, has fueled a significant rise in the death rate among the young. For example, in some countries, she says, up to one-third of all deaths of 15 to 29-year-old males have been associated with alcohol consumption. She says countless others are dying from AIDS.

Although the report finds that child poverty has fallen slightly since 2000, Ms. Chernyahovskaya says the numbers are still "appalling." Also appalling, she says, is the lack of money spent on children by transition nation governments.

"For example, in some countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia and in Southeastern Europe, including Albania, Armenia and Tajikistan, public expenditure on health care and education is about four percent GDP, or less, and this is very low by regional standards," she added.

Ms. Chernyahovskaya says UNICEF is calling on governments across the Commonwealth of Independent States to do more to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are more widely distributed, both geographically and among all groups.

She says that means governments should not, for example, allow the decentralization of public services to result in lower service levels in more economically challenged areas. She says government officials should also be focusing on one key question: how to make economic growth benefit children?