Steep Rise in Child Poverty in Central Asia/Eastern Europe

50 % More Children Trafficked By Family

Rising inflation and Russia-Ukraine war have triggered a 19 per cent increase in child poverty across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said a new study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Published on Monday, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the study “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 drop outs and infant mortality.

It pointed out that though children make up 25 per cent of the population, they account for nearly 40 per cent of the additional 10.4 million people experiencing 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. 


The UN agency says that the war and the economic downturn would affect children and their families in three ways

  • Higher prices for basic goods (food and fuel) – with global effects – decreasing purchasing power, reducing real disposable incomes, increasing poverty risks.
  • Disrupted trade and supply chains, and falling remittances, – affecting mostly neighbouring countries – are further increasing prices and lowering real household incomes directly.
  • Increasing uncertainty in business and investment will tighten financial conditions, and risk capital outflows from emerging markets – worsening economic conditions in the long term, increasing poverty risks, and stifling recovery.


  • An additional 10.4 million people in the ECA region will go into poverty, including almost 4 million children (under 18s). Nearly three-quarters of these children are Russian even though the Russian Federation accounts for about one-third of the region’s population. The increase in child poverty is about 19 per cent higher than the projected child poverty in the absence of the war and economic downturn.
  • An additional 117 thousand years of compulsory schooling will be lost – equivalent to an increase of 2 children in every thousand in the region missing a year of school altogether in 2022.
  •  In terms of infant mortality, an additional 4,500 children will die in 2022 before their first birthday (about 8 per 100,000 live births).


The study notes that several countries in the ECA region are heavily reliant on Russian markets, and forecasts predict that the economic contraction related in 2022 would be the largest shock in the Russian Federation since the transformation crisis (1992) that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union (CEPR policy portal, 2022). Ukraine is home to half a million additional children living in poverty, the second largest share. It is important to note that this is a conservative estimate which uses a GDP drop of 10 per cent, the study noted.

With the war in Ukraine, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) growth forecasts from October 2021 and April 2022, shows that, in the absence of the war, the GDP per capita (USD PPP) for ECA would have reached $24,700 in 2022 from $23,300 in 2021. With the war, the GDP per capita (USD PPP) is still projected to increase for 2022, but only to $23,600, essentially meaning the war and subsequent economic downturn has cost the region about USD 1,100 PPP per person for the 424 million population – or approximately USD 462 billion PPP in total, the report said.


The poorer a family is, the higher the proportion of income that must go towards food, fuel, and other necessities, the UNICEF said. “When the cost of basic goods soars, the money available to meet other needs such as healthcare and education, falls. 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 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.


  • Provide universal cash benefits for children and ensure minimum income security.
  • Expand social assistance benefits to all families with children in need, including refugees. 
  • Protect social spending, especially for vulnerable children and families. 
  • Protect and support the delivery of health, nutrition, and social care services to pregnant mothers, infants, and pre-schoolers.
  • Introduce price regulations on basic food items for families.


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