Date Published: 8 February 2007
Launch of the State of Children in Serbia Report 2006
Over 300,000 children in Serbia today live in poverty and exclusion
Despite the important steps that have been taken to improve the status of children in Serbia since the late 1990s, there are still over 300,000 children today who are living in poverty or are at risk of poverty according to a UNICEF Report released today.
The State of Children in Serbia 2006 Report – Poor and Excluded Children, produced jointly by the Republic Statistical Office in Serbia, the Council for Child Rights of the Republic of Serbia and UNICEF Belgrade Office, is based on the unique information and statistics derived from the unpublished “Research on Family Beliefs and Care Practices” and “Survey on Child Poverty”, and includes the most recent striking indicators and data from the 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS).
“ Childhood is an opportunity that never comes back,” said UNICEF Serbia Representative Ann-Lis Svensson.
“ The future of Serbia depends on a healthy and educated generation, which requires inclusive policies that target specifically the poor and excluded children and a better use of resources.”
The Report finds that over 155,000 children in Serbia are poor and that an additional 155,000 are at risk of falling below the poverty line. These are the children who due to material, social and cultural deprivation are limited in the realisation of their rights to education, healthcare, equal development and protection. Analysis of data from rural and urban areas, from households of different sizes and structures reveal significant disparities within the country. The largest percentage of children who are above the average risk of poverty are:
- children from large families
- children living in rural areas, especially in Southeast and Western Serbia
- children belonging to certain minority groups, particularly Roma
- internally displaced people and refugee children.
These children are growing up beyond the reach of development and are often invisible in everything from public debate and laws, to statistics and news stories.
Improving the status of children will depend on the level of priority this objective will get among the numerous reform objectives of a country in transition. Awareness and good data for evidence-based policy making and for monitoring the effects of these policies are urgently required.
Over 80 per cent of Roma children living in Roma settlements are poor and practically all indicators point to their unacceptable deprivation and multidimensional discrimination. Research presented in the Report show that these children more often suffer from illness and stunting as a result of malnutrition and hunger – four times as many Roma children are stunted compared to the national average. The preliminary MICS survey results indicate that infant and under five mortality rates are three times higher among Roma children than in the general population. These children have to take on adult roles in lack of sufficient government assistance, often live in slums or cardboard and tin houses and have little access to services.
In Serbia, only 33% of children attend pre-school institutions, but this percentage is drastically lower among Roma children – only 4% and just 6% among the 20% poorest. 6% of children living under the poverty line do not go to primary school and only 13% of Roma children complete primary school. One of the most often cited reasons for non-attendance is poverty. And yet, education is a key area for breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty and exclusion. Among the poor, the majority come from families with adult members who have no educational background.
There are also other children who are excluded – children deprived of parental care in residential institutions, children living with disabilities and children victims of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.
Children with disabilities are not only excluded from the healthcare and educational system, but are also exposed to isolation and non acceptance by the community. Parents of children with disabilities are often left alone without adequate support from government.
Lack of adequate social welfare services at local level to support poor or dysfunctional families, or to provide good quality foster family services often lead to institutionalisation, which deprives the child of the right to grow in a family environment and limits the development of the child for life.
Finally, the Report points to the fact that in Serbia corporal punishment of children is still present in both the family and in schools, and that other forms of violence are also frequent. Interfering in inter-family relationships is still considered unacceptable, and it seems that there is still insufficient public condemnation of ‘disciplining’ children. A significant number of children are exposed to violence from peers, and also to violent behaviour from teachers.
The State of Children in Serbia 2006 Report calls for action to be taken urgently.