Date: Fri, 25 Apr 1997 16:16:09 -0700
Communism's fall means misery for children in need
By Gordon Martin, Daily Telegraph, 24 April 1997
Unicef report: Eastern Europe reform leaves children behind
Geneva - Children face worse deprivation and danger in post-communist eastern and central Europe than under the old authoritarian regimes, according to a United Nations report.
Unicef, the UN Children's Fund, says the social, political and economic upheavals since the collapse of communism have taken a heavy toll among children in the region's "transition" countries. There are now about one million children living in public care, mostly in big institutions, in these 18 countries, the UN agency estimates. This figure is higher than in the 1980s.
The change to market-led economies brought high hopes that the care of deprived children in the former Communist states would improve, but these ideals have been largely betrayed, it says.
Children have been left trapped between economic progress and social impoverishment. Scarce funds and uneven support for reforms have inhibited any major improvement in institutional care or a shift to more humane options. More worrying, there has been little change in attitudes, with too many children still being abandoned to state care, the report says.
It recalls that after the fall of Ceaucescu seven years ago, sub-human conditions in Romanian orphanages shocked the world. But they were not unique, and the lack of a coherent system of community support continues.
Children born in the transition years have been facing an increased risk of entering public care. The rates of children aged up to three placed in infant homes have risen by 35 to 45 per cent in Romania, Russia and Latvia, and 75 per cent in Estonia. Only Hungary has been able to avoid higher institutionalisation or fostering rates.
Other children have been the victims of armed conflict in transition countries such as Georgia. Poor living and health conditions have pushed up the adult mortality rate in 15 of the 18 countries monitored, with a consequent increase in the number of orphans, especially in Russia.
Meanwhile, with the breakdown of the old social constraints, divorce has rocketed - in the extreme case of Estonia, there are more divorces than marriages. There has been a steep rise in the number of teenage mothers and of single mothers, Unicef says.
"One might have expected families to pull together in times of economic crisis", the report's authors commented. "But the huge pressure of the transition appear to be splitting families apart and eroding parental responsibility." The report describes as frightening the pace of the spread of drug abuse, child prostitution and juvenile crime in the post-communist period. The UN agency calls on governments in the region to give up their "piecemeal, crisis-led approach" and to devise a long-term strategy to help families meet their child-raising responsibilities.