Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising inflation have pushed some four million children into poverty across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, according to the United Nations children agency.
“Children are bearing the heaviest burden of the economic crisis caused by the war in Ukraine,” UNICEF said on Monday.
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The conflict “and rising inflation have driven an additional four million children across Eastern Europe and Central Asia into poverty, a 19 percent increase since 2021”, it said.
UNICEF drew its conclusions from a study of data from 22 countries.
Russian and Ukrainian children have been most affected since Moscow attacked its neighbour in February.
“Russia accounts for nearly three-quarters of the total increase in the number of children living in poverty due to the Ukraine war and a cost-of-living crisis across the region, with an additional 2.8 million children now living in households below the poverty line,” UNICEF found.
The blow to Russia’s economy from Western sanctions has combined with its large population to produce the outsize effect.
“Ukraine is home to half a million additional children living in poverty, the second largest share,” UNICEF added.
Romania followed closely behind, with a further 110,000 children living in poverty.
“Children all over the region are being swept up in this war’s terrible wake,” said UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia, Afshan Khan.
“If we don’t support these children and families now, the steep rise in child poverty will almost certainly result in lost lives, lost learning, and lost futures.”
The poorer a family is, the greater the proportion of its income it must spend on food and fuel, leaving less for children’s healthcare and education, the agency explained.
They are also “more at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse”.
This could well translate into an additional 4,500 children dying before their first birthdays, and an additional 117,000 children dropping out of school this year alone, UNICEF said.
It called for a range of measures to tackle the issue, including providing universal cash benefits for children and protecting social spending, especially for the most vulnerable children and families.
“Austerity measures will hurt children most of all – plunging even more children into poverty and making it harder for families who are already struggling,” said Khan. “We have to protect and expand social support for vulnerable families before the situation gets any worse.”