The U.N. Children's Fund, also known as UNICEF, said in a report released in Helsinki, Finland, Wednesday that despite the economic upturn in the region and corresponding drop in children living in extreme poverty, there are still stark disparities in child well-being and opportunities.
The number of children in the region under 15 years of age living in extreme poverty has dropped from 32 million to 18 million since the late '90s,UNICEF said.
"Child poverty should be the number one concern of governments in the region," the agency's Regional Director Maria Calivis said.
"Children continue to be placed in institutions; the numbers are not decreasing, and this despite a sharp decline in the birth rate," she said. "The future of the region is inextricably bound to the well-being of children. If the true potential of all these countries is to be achieved, there must be adequate investment in services for children."
With the future of the region depending on a healthy and educated generation, it calls for a better use of resources and more generous support from the international community, including more public spending on social services such as health and education; higher levels of social transfers to families with young children; and a shift away from the widespread practice of placing children in institutions to supporting families in crisis.
The share of children living in extreme poverty ranges from 5 percent in some Southeastern European countries, to 80 percent in the poorest Central Asia nations, said the study, "The Innocenti Social Monitor 2006: Understanding Child Poverty in Southeastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States."