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UNICEF: More Children in Poverty
November 29, 2001

GENEVA (AP) - 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 United Nations 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, almost three-quarters of children live on less than $2.15 a day - a World Bank yardstick for poverty.

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

``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.

Cases of HIV/AIDS have skyrocketed in Russia and the Ukraine, and there has been a huge increase in tuberculosis. 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 percent from 1989 due to a sharp drop in births. Marriage rates also fell and the proportion of children born out of wedlock doubled to 22 percent.

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

Governments need to recognize the changing nature of the family, with more single-parent households, the breakdown of the extended family in some areas and fewer marriages, it said.

Investment also is needed to tackle long-term disadvantages - such as discrimination against women and minorities - that perpetuate poverty, the agency added.

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