The number of children in German living in poverty is rising faster than in most other industrialized nations, according to a new report. Children of single parents and immigrant families are especially threatened.
One in 10 children in Germany lives in relative poverty
The report, released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday, found that in three quarters of the richest countries in the world child poverty has risen sometimes dramatically over the last 10 years. It also said child poverty was on the increase because efforts of governments in the 26 most industrialized countries has waned in the past decades.
The marked increase in child poverty in rich countries comes as a surprise and shatters popular perceptions that recent increases in wealth in the first world would be evenly spread among all people in society, according to the report's authors.
Peter Adamson from UNICEF said that Western governments appear to have dropped former ideals of creating equal living standards and argues that birth circumstances should not determine the life-time opportunities of children today.
"There is a legitimate concern that progress towards that ideal has slowed, that some kind of barrier has been lowered," he said. "That barrier may well be the level and persistence of poverty and disadvantage in childhood."
Nordic countries fare best
According to the study compiled by UNICEF’s Institute in Florence, Italy, the northern European states of Denmark and Finland have the lowest levels of child poverty with 2.4 percent and 2.8 percent respectively. The poverty line has been fixed at about €8,000 ($10,500) family income a year or less than half of the average income of a normal national houshold.
Begging for money on a Mexican street
The United States and Mexico are at the bottom of the list of 25 industrialized countries with poverty levels of 21 and 27 percent. UNICEF, however, is most alarmed by the rapid rise in child poverty in many wealthy nations. Only one third of countries have made progress in the last year with Britain making the biggest strides being able to reduce numbers by more than 3 percent. UNICEF warned that child poverty will have lasting effects on the countries‘ economic competitiveness and social cohesion.
"Children who grow up in poverty are at a marked and measurable disadvantage in their future lives," Adamson said. "There is a strong statistical correlation between poverty in childhood and a variety of very well documented problems in later life. The likelihood of poor health, of educational underachievement, of dropping out of school early and of long-term welfare dependence."
Calls for German government to act
The authors of the study urge national governments to make a stronger commitment to fighting child poverty. Germany, where about 10 percent of children are categorized as poor, has also seen a strong 2.7 percent rise in the past decade.
Children of single mothers are especially affected
Here poverty is rampant among single mothers and immigrant families especially from the former Soviet Union. Altogether, about 1.5 million children in Germany grow up in relative poverty.
Reinhard Schlagintweit of UNICEF Germany demanded swift action from the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, which was expected to discuss the report during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
"First there must be better opportunities for women with children to return to their jobs," he said. "Secondly we must improve our education system at the lowest levels, including greater efforts to integrate non-German-speaking children. The British example shows that when you target your subsidies on poor children you can improve child poverty."
Renate Schmidt, Germany's family minister, said on Tuesday she planned on widening the group of people who receive extra money from the state for their children.
"I'll make suggestions within the year," she said.