I have been thinking about the topic for the next post on „Dziewczynkazksiazka” blog for a while, considering writing on the education of Roma girls in the Central and South-Eastern Europe, the issue of ethnically divided schools in the Balkans or the activities of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative. While all these topics undoubtedly deserve our attention, I have decided to write about the situation of children in the country that is inextricably linked to the time I met Magdalena Chodownik, the organiser of the Polish edition of the „Girlwithabook” campaign – the Republic of Moldova. Taking into consideration the fact that Moldova remains still fairly unknown to many people, this short article is just a snapshot and a brief introduction to the variety of topics and stories I am hoping to explore.
So let’s start from the beginning…Moldova is a small landlocked Eastern European country sandwiched between Ukraine in the south, east and north-east and Romania in the west with a population of approx. 3.5 million people, over 20% being under 18 years. An additional half million people, including over 100,000 children, live in the breakaway region of Transnistria. Moldova is the poorest country in Europe with a $2,000 GDP per capita and an average monthly gross salary of $300. Despite some improvements, over 20% of its population still lives below poverty line.
The population of Moldova is largely rural; 65% of all children live in villages, where services are fewer and poverty much more common than in the cities. Employment opportunities in the country are scarce and Moldova has one of the highest rates of emigration in the world. It is estimated that approximately 0.5 million of Moldovans emigrated in the search of a better life, often leaving children behind with relatives. Remittances from Moldovans abroad account for almost 38% of Moldova’s GDP, the second-highest percentage in the world.
An entire generation of children has grown up since the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified in the Republic of Moldova shortly after the country declared its independence. Despite this, children are still one of the most disadvantaged social categories in the Republic of Moldova, many children being vulnerable, excluded, and discriminated against. There are still children that live in residential institutions, and children abandoned by their parents. The juvenile justice system hardly ensures the rights of children who are in conflict with the law. Children with disabilities, children with HIV/AIDS, and Roma children continue to be victims of stigmatisation and discrimination.
Children are affected by poverty more often and more profoundly than adults are. At present, children constitute 30.4% of the extremely poor population in the country. Besides the fact that they are poor, vulnerable children are also socially excluded. Most of the time they do not have access to education or medical services, are poorly fed, and do not have decent clothing.
As mentioned earlier, phenomenon that marks the lives of many Moldovan children is the emigration of their parents. Left at home without supervision, and without parental love, children become even more vulnerable. Some quickly find themselves in orphanage boarding schools. Others simply stop trying to learn or quit school altogether. The absence of parents increases the risks that the children already have. They can fall prey to abuse and trafficking, or become drug users and be exposed to the risk of infection with HIV/AIDS.
Thousands of children grow up in families where beatings are the most popular form of discipline. In addition, more and more often violence is appearing in schools coming from the teachers. Children in poor neighbourhoods and rural areas are exposed to a greater risk than other children of being abandoned, institutionalised, dropping out of school, or ending up on the streets.
General statistics about Moldova paint a somewhat encouraging picture, with a modestly growing economy and poverty in slow but steady decline. These benefits though do not reach all, and children are often last in line. Overall, about 20% of Moldovans live in poverty; but this rate rises quickly for children in rural areas, from large families, or living in single parent households. Half of Moldovan children are raised on less than 2.5 dollars per day.
Daily features of a child’s life are an interesting mix of old and new: mobile phones are common everywhere, and one in three in people use the internet. Meanwhile, only 5% of rural families with children have inside toilets, and even running water is a rarity, enjoyed by less than one in four such families. Differences between village and city life are especially apparent in the winter, when unpaved roads turn to mud or ice, and poor indoor heating as well outdoor sanitary facilities create additional hardship.
Many international organisations, including the UN bodies, as well as national NGOs work hard to improve lives of children of Moldova. However, there is still much to be done. With the recent launch (late September 2013) of the post-2015 UN Development Agenda, hopes remain high for advancements in the sphere of education, health and nutrition, children’s rights and social policies in Moldova.
More facts and figures about children of Moldova can be found on the UNICEF country page.