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Surge in poverty-stricken children in Eastern Europe, Central Asia – Modern Diplomacy

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Rising inflation and the Ukraine war have triggered a 19 per cent increase in child poverty across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, according to a study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), published on Monday, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
The impact of the war in Ukraine and subsequent economic downturn on child poverty in eastern Europe and Central Asia, warns that ripple effects of the surge could result in a steep rise in school dropouts and infant mortality.
Data from 22 countries across the region shows that children are bearing the heaviest burden of the economic crisis stemming from Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine.
While they make up only 25 per cent of the population, they account for nearly 40 per cent of the additional 10.4 million people forced into poverty this year.
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. 
Sparked by the Ukraine war and a cost-of-living crisis across the region, Russia accounts for nearly three-quarters of the increase in child poverty – with an additional 2.8 million now living in households below the poverty line.
Ukraine is home to half a million additional children living in poverty, the second largest share, followed by Romania, where there has been an increase of 110,000, the study notes.
“Beyond the obvious horrors of war – the killing and maiming of children, mass displacement – the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine are having a devastating impact on children across eastern Europe and Central Asia”, said Ms. Khan. 
The consequences of child poverty stretch far beyond families living in financial distress.
The sharp increase could result in an additional 4,500 babies dying before their first birthdays and learning losses could mean an extra 117,000 dropping out of school this year alone, the study says.
“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”, warned the UNICEF official.
The poorer a family is, the higher the proportion of income that must go towards food, fuel, and other necessities.
When the cost of basic goods soars, the money available to meet other needs such as healthcare and education, falls, the study points out.
The subsequent cost-of-living crisis means that the poorest children are even less likely to access essential services, and are more at risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse.
And for many, childhood poverty lasts a lifetime, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of hardship and deprivation.
When governments reduce public expenditure, raise taxes, or add austerity measures to boost their economies, they diminish support services for those that depend on it.
“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 Ms. Khan.
The study makes recommendations to help those in financial distress, such as providing universal cash benefits for children; expanding social assistance to families with children in need; and protecting social spending.
It also suggests supporting health, nutrition, and social care services to pregnant mothers, infants, and preschoolers as well as introducing price regulations on basic food items for families.
Meanwhile, UNICEF has partnered with the EU Commission and several EU countries to pilot the EU Child Guarantee initiative to mitigate the impact of poverty on children.
With more children and families being pushed into poverty, a robust response is essential, across the region.
UNICEF is calling for expanded support to strengthen social protection systems in high and middle-income countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia; and social protection programme funding for vulnerable children and families.
“We have to protect and expand social support for vulnerable families before the situation gets any worse”, underscored the UNICEF Regional Director.
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Delegates attending a meeting held to discuss better protection for whistle-blowers working in the public sector have concluded that more effective legislation and protection mechanisms should be put in place, to protect whistle-blowers and combat corruption and other wrongdoing.

The ILO Technical meeting on the protection of whistle-blowers in the public service sector  looked at the challenges countries face in ensuring these protections. Representatives from governments, employers and workers concluded that governments, in cooperation with employers and public sector worker organizations, should put legislation and policies in place to combat any form of retaliation, violence and harassment linked with disclosures.

Protecting public service workers, including those working in public sector oversight bodies is “fundamental to the advancement of decent work, efficient public service delivery, and social justice, and also a useful tool against corruption,” said Luis C. Melero, Vice-Chairperson of the Government Group.

The meeting concluded that corruption and other forms of wrongdoing distort public administration and government budgets, leading to the inefficient provision of public services, reduced public investment, decent work deficits and slower economic growth.

“Protecting whistle-blowers in the public sector can make it easier to detect bribery solicitation, misuse of public funds, waste, fraud, and other forms of corruption across the economy,” said Paul Mckay, Employers’ Vice-Chairperson. “Anticorruption measures are part of an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises.”

Attendees discussed how social dialogue can help identify strategies to strengthen the protection of whistle-blowers and be part of the architecture that protects the impartiality of the public service sector and its workers from undue influence. It can also help develop a culture of transparency, accountability, and zero tolerance for corruption and wrongdoing in the sector. The meeting highlighted the important role of governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations in promoting such a culture.

“Governments and social partners recognized that there are normative gaps in whistleblower protection and that social dialogue is key to design a pathway towards a global normative framework in line with the ILO mandate,” said Wim Vandekerckhove, Workers’ Vice-Chairperson.

“We should ensure the legitimacy of whistle-blowers within the public service. We must provide collective action networks to protect whistle-blowers from being isolated or made obvious targets for retaliation,” said Judge Dhaya Pillay, Chair of the meeting.

The conclusions and recommendations adopted by the meeting, which took place 26–30 September, in Geneva, are designed to assist governments, employers and workers safeguard the efficiency and impartiality of the public service sector and adequately protect whistle-blowers.
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In Mozambique, more than 20 per cent of girls aged between 13 and 17 have been married or live with someone as if they were married. Women’s support groups are putting thousands of them on the road to financial independence, making them less vulnerable to gender-based violence.Teresa Gala is a 44-year-old mother of five. She was married at 14, and had to leave school because of her new circumstances. For more than three decades, her days were filled with domestic chores and taking care of her children. During the agricultural season, Ms. Gala added to her daily routine by working on her family farm.
However, her thoughts always remained focused on having her own business, one that would give her financial independence.
“Since I didn’t study and didn’t have my livelihood, I always had to ask my husband for money, “says Ms. Gala. “Being aware that he didn’t earn much, sometimes I asked almost nothing, but I still heard ‘no’ many times. It was very humiliating”.
Three decades ago, when she got married, there was almost no debate about child marriage in the country, but things are changing for the better. Since 2019, the Spotlight Initiative, a global initiative of the United Nations funded by the European Union, has been supporting the approval and implementation of Mozambican laws that protect women and girls from gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as early marriages.
In 2021, life improved for Ms. Gala, when she joined the Tambara Women’s Association (ASMTA) in Manica province, an organization backed by the Spotlight Initiative. These associations and women’s groups create support networks where women can learn and grow together economically, and create trusting relationships and safe spaces to address issues related to gender-based violence and women’s rights. In Mozambique, over the past year, the Spotlight Initiative supported more than 9,000 women in this way.
Through the group, Ms. Gala had access to a “business kit” which included the initial funds for her to start a company selling yogurt made from Malambe (baobab tree fruit) and Maheu (a fermented corn drink).
In the Tambara district, where Ms. Gala lives, temperatures easily reach over 40 degrees Celsius but, by investing her first profits in a freezer, she was able to make Maheu and Malembe ice cream, which was an immediate hit with her customers.
With more money coming in, Ms. Gala was able to buy a cell phone, enabling her to communicate with clients and social contacts, and join the national mobile financial system.
With proceeds from her micro-enterprise, she now contributes to the household expenses and pays the university fees for one of her daughters, who is studying for a health degree.
“My business makes me feel more respected at home. Today I am a financially stable woman, with savings, who contributes to household expenses and the education of my children”, she says. “I no longer have to wait for my husband to meet my financial needs”.
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An unrelenting series of crises has trapped vulnerable Haitians in a cycle of growing desperation, without access to food, fuel, markets, jobs and public services, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Friday.Hunger has reached a catastrophic level – the highest level 5, on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification index, or IPC) – in the capital’s Cité Soleil neighbourhood.
According to the latest IPC analysis, a record 4.7 million people are currently facing acute hunger (IPC 3 and above), including 1.8 million people in Emergency phase (IPC 4) and, for the first time ever in Haiti, 19,000 people are in Catastrophe phase, phase 5.
Currently, 65 percent of Cité Soleil’s population, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, are in high levels of food insecurity with 5 percent of them in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
Increased violence, with armed groups vying for control of the vast and now lawless area of Port-au-Prince, has meant that residents have lost access to their work, markets and health and nutrition services. Many have been forced to flee or just hide indoors.
Food security has also continued to deteriorate in rural areas, with several going from Crisis to Emergency levels.
Harvest losses due to below average rainfall and the 2021 earthquake that devastated parts of the Grand´Anse, Nippes and Sud departments, are among the other devastating factors, beyond the political and economic crisis.
WFP stands with the people of Haiti – serving the vulnerable and helping the poorest. We are here to ensure schoolchildren get a nutritious meal each day, families meet their basic food needs and communities are empowered,” said Jean-Martin Bauer, WFP Country Director in Haiti.
“This is a time of tumult in Haiti. But there is a way forward. We all need to be steadfast and focus on delivering urgent humanitarian assistance and supporting long-term development.”
“We need to help Haitians produce better, more nutritious food to safeguard their livelihoods and their futures, especially in the context of a worsening food crisis,” said José Luis Fernández Filgueiras, FAO Representative in Haiti. “Resource mobilization efforts must be scaled up in order to strengthen the resilience of households targeted by emergency food assistance to increase their self-reliance.”
For years, natural hazards and political turmoil have taken a toll on Haitians who were already in need in both rural and urban areas. The onset of the global food crisis, with rising food and fuel prices, has led to growing civil unrest that has plunged Haiti into chaos, completely paralyzing economic activities and transport.
The basic food basket is out of reach for many Haitians. Inflation stands at a staggering 33 percent and the cost of petrol has doubled.
Despite the volatile security situation in the capital, Port-au-Prince, WFP provided more than 100,000 people with emergency assistance in the metropolitan area in 2022. WFP’s focus remains on strengthening national social protection and food systems that are central to the country’s recovery efforts and long-term development.
Over the next six months, WFP requires US$ 105 million for crisis response and to tackle root causes and bolster the resilience of Haitian.
FAO has been providing emergency livelihoods support to small-scale vulnerable farming households. During the autumn agricultural season starting this month, FAO aims to reach close to 70,000 people with cash for work, food crop production assistance, goat and poultry breeding assistance, and food storage and processing support for school feeding programmes. FAO urgently requires some $33 million to assist more than 470,000 of the most vulnerable people.
While the agencies continue operating in Haiti as the security situation allows, increased insecurity, violence and lack of fuel are hampering humanitarian operations which are critical for the most vulnerable Haitians.
And, nearly 100,000 children under the age of five who are already suffering from severe acute malnutrition -also known as severe wasting – are especially vulnerable to the ongoing cholera outbreak affecting Haiti, UNICEF has warned.
At a time when much of the country is facing growing food insecurity, acutely malnourished children have weakened immune systems and they are at least three times more likely to die if they contract cholera, further reinforcing the need for urgent action to contain the disease.

Since cholera was first reported on 2 October 2022, there have been 357 suspected cases with more than half of these in children under 14.
Children aged between one and four years are at the greatest risk.

“The crisis in Haiti is increasingly a children’s crisis,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. “One in three of those suffering from cholera is under the age of five.
“For children who are already weak from a lack of nutritious food, catching cholera, and suffering the effects, including diarrhoea and vomiting, is close to a death sentence. They must be identified and treated urgently, and concrete measures must be taken to prevent new cholera cases in the communities.”

In Cité Soleil, where the first cholera case was reported, up to 8,000 under-fives are at risk of dying of concurrent malnutrition, wasting in this case, and cholera unless urgent action is taken to contain this threat.
The health system has been brought to its knees in Haiti following the gang blockade of the country’s principal fuel terminal.
Around three-quarters of major hospitals across the country, which rely on diesel generators for electricity, report being unable to provide regular services. Fuel shortages also mean there are now only three ambulances functioning in Port-au-Prince – with close to none running across the rest of the country.
Vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and girls, are the most impacted by restricted access to health services.
UNFPA, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, estimates that close to 30,000 pregnant women are at risk of being unable to access essential healthcare, and almost 10,000 could experience life-threatening – if not fatal – obstetric complications without skilled medical assistance. Around 7,000 survivors of sexual violence could be left without medical and psychosocial support by the end of the year.
“Despite the extremely challenging security situation and fuel shortages, UNFPA and our partners are operating mobile clinics frequently in internally displaced persons sites around Port-au-Prince,” said Saïdou Kaboré, UNFPA Representative in Haiti.
“Our trained community workers are doing all they can to ensure that women and girls, especially pregnant women and survivors of violence, can access services and support that are critical to their health and survival.”
Also on Friday, the UN human rights office OHCHR, revealed in a highly disturbing report from Haiti, that children as young as 10, as well as elderly women, have been subjected to appalling sexual violence – including collective rapes for hours in front of their parents or children, by more than half a dozen armed elements – amid an explosion of gang violence in Port-au-Prince.
The report, titled Sexual violence in Port-au-Prince: a weapon used by gangs to instill fear, was jointly published by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) and OHCHR.
Gangs use sexual violence to instill fear, and alarmingly the number of cases increases by the day as the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Haiti deepens,” Nada Al-Nashif, the Acting Human Rights Chief said.
“The gruesome testimonies shared by victims underscore the imperative for urgent action to stop this depraved behaviour, ensure that those responsible are held to account, and the victims are provided support.”
The report painstakingly documents sexual crimes perpetrated against women, girls and boys of all ages – and to a lesser extent men – by gangs waging their turf wars and seeking to expand their areas of influence. LGBTI+ people have also been targeted.
Armed gangs have used rape and collective rapes to instill fear, punish, subjugate, and inflict pain on local populations, the report stated.
Viewed as sexual objects, women, girls, and sometimes men, are also coerced into becoming the “partners” of armed elements, in gang strongholds. Refusing such sexual demands can lead to reprisals including killing and arson attacks.
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