Welfare groups fear that the number of poor children will continue to rise as the correlation between poverty as a child and missing out on a proper education is stronger in Germany than in many other places in the West.
More and more children in Germany are losing out
"There was a time when I’d look forward to Christmas and New Year," a 14-year-old boy on the streets of Berlin said recently. "But now I’m really fed up with all these celebrations around me. They should be done away with completely," he added. "That’s how I feel about it.”
He’s one of some 3,500 young Berliners aged between 14 and 21 who live rough and unprotected lives out on the streets.
The bright city lights of the festive season leave them cold, because they have no money to spend on consumer goods or services.
A new study recently presented by welfare organizations contains a message of warning that sociologists and lawmakers have been trying to get across for some time.
The German government says about 15 percent of all kids up to age 14 are poor
Child poverty in affluent Germany is on the rise, and the number of children in poverty has already exceeded the one million mark.
The situation is particularly drastic in larger cities where an estimated one in four children and their parents can hardly make both ends meet. These families have to survive on less than half of the average salary nationwide, which is the sociologists' definition of relative poverty in the industrialized world.
This, of course, has little to do with the United Nations’ definition of poverty, which defines people as poor, if they are forced to subsist on less than a dollar per day. Nevertheless, child poverty in Germany is seen as an alarming signal because of the shortcomings it reflects in day-care and the education system.
Single parents likely to fall through gaps
Barbara Stolterfoth, who heads a large German welfare organisation, says children in single-parent households are most likely to fall into the poverty trap.
"Single parents in Germany don't have a chance to have a place in a kindergarten or in a day-care center, so most of the time they cannot go to work because they have to care for the children," Stolterfoth said.
Statistically, early-age poverty in Germany has a tremendous impact on the educational opportunities enjoyed by a child later in life. Only four out of 100 children who are considered poor during kindergarten age actually make it to higher education.
The likelihood of a decent education is even slimmer for poor children from migrant backgrounds.
Strong psychological pressure
The government needs to invest more in kindergartens
Social scientists such as Klaus Hurrelmann hope that the grand coalition government in Berlin will fully implement the long-term measures it promised to fight child poverty and reform the education system.
He says poor children are often barred from numerous hobbies and leisure activities taken for granted by their more prosperous peers. The poorer parent simply can't afford them. This leads to what sociologists call the multiple deprivation symptom, which the poor have to learn to cope with.
"The problems that children in rich Germany have are not comparable to those in developing countries, for example in Africa," Hurrelmann said.
"However, the psychological pressure cannot be overlooked, it is a very heavy burden to cope with your economic achievement and social situation."