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Poverty in Germany traced to childhood inequalities

Poverty remains the greatest risk for a child's development in Germany, according to a long-term study released on Tuesday. Social experts say more than 2.5 million children in Germany live in poverty.

The long-term study by AWO, a charity with links to trade unions, and Germany's ISS social educational institute tracked 900 children in diverse family settings over 15 years. It concludes that the determining factors are the parents' educational backgrounds, level of income and family structure.

While 51 percent of the children remained in long-term poverty, the study found that the expression "born poor, stay poor" did not always apply.

AWO chairman Wolfgang Stadler said better futures for children are possible when parents, kindergartens and schools cooperate.

"It depends on continual caregiving," Stadler said when presenting the study in Berlin on Tuesday.

One critical moment is whether the switch from kindergarten to primary school is poorly coordinated.

Better resourced youth and child services "must take more responsibility for childrens' development," Stadler said. "Only then can social justice and equality be produced."

The study also found that young adults living in single-parent families received less personal attention at home. In these cases, poorer children were found to be more self-sufficient.

In poorer families, 51 percent of parents believed that their children were old enough to care for themselves; that number was just 35 percent in families not trapped in poverty.

'Not small adults'

"Children need orientation," said lead researcher Gerda Holz. "They are not small adults."

Even for 16- or 17-year-olds, a breakdown in joint care by parents and educators has big impacts, Holz said.

Such children and teenagers ended up as substitute parents for younger siblings, jobbing to earn extra income.

"Poverty leads to more burdens and poorer chances," Holz said.

The study also found that children's migratory backgrounds play a lesser role in poverty. The bigger influences lie in the parents' backgrounds.

Germany's DKSB Child Protection Federation estimates that 2.5 million children in German live under the poverty line as defined by law. That amounts to 19.4 percent of all people under 18 years of age in Germany.

Poor-rich gap grows

A more general report recently published by Germany's Labor Ministry points to a growing gap between rich and poor.

In 1998, 45 percent of Germany's total wealth was owned by the wealthiest 10 percent of the population.

Ten years later, that proportion had risen to 53 percent, while around half of all households owned just 1 percent.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces a federal election next year, quickly ruled out suggestions of a redistribution of wealth, possibly via higher taxes for the rich.

mkg/ipj (epd, kna, dpa, dpad)