The pan-European network Eurochild has just published its first report on Child Poverty, focusing on how children themselves perceive poverty. The study Poverty Takes Away the Right to Childhood covers four specific countries, including Bulgaria. In the series of consultations and surveys with young people in the participating countries, the boys and girls from Megaphone – the child and youth participation programme of the National Network for Children – took part. The other countries surveyed were Croatia, Estonia and Malta, where the Society ‘Our Children’ Opatija in Croatia, the Estonian Union for Child Welfare, and the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society provided assistance for the report.
According to the latest data from Eurostat for 2022, 24.7% of children in Europe are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, which could have a devastating impact on their lives and a direct negative impact on the quality of their health, education and overall well-being. As an advocate for children’s rights with the EU, Eurochild is committed to hearing children’s voices on the issues that matter to them and putting their perspectives under the spotlight, because no one understands their life experiences better than they do. This gives children the opportunity to contribute and the chance to be engaged and empowered participants in making a difference in their lives and those of their communities.
Poverty Takes Away the Right to Childhood shows how children understand the causes, manifestations and consequences of poverty, and also draws attention to young people’s ideas about what needs to change. Different research methods were applied in the four countries to gather children’s views and a total of 203 children were consulted through focus groups and online surveys. The NNC Megaphone Programme engaged five young people aged 14-16 and three aged 17-18 in the research. All in-country participants were asked to share their understanding of the causes, manifestations and effects of poverty on their peers and/or other children, rather than sharing personal experiences of poverty, past or present.
The children that completed the surveys and participated in the consultations were invited to consider and share their perspectives on the manifestations of poverty in five areas of children’s lives:
- Children’s general understanding of poverty; 1a. Children’s understanding of the general impact of poverty on other children and young people
- Poverty and school;
- Poverty and bullying;
- Poverty and home;
- Poverty and community
Highlights from the report
In Bulgaria, 33% of children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This is above the EU average of 24.4%. Malta is close to the EU average at 22.6%, while the lowest rates in this report are found in Croatia at 18.4% and Estonia at 17.4%.
When asked ‘What do you understand by the word poverty?’ in all four countries, the most common association of children is with lack of money, followed by lack of basic resources and necessities such as water, food, home and/or shelter, heating and electricity. Children also associate poverty with the emotional aspect of the impact of poverty, relating it with feelings of sadness, loneliness and anxiety.
When the children were asked, ‘What do you think affects children and young people living in poverty?’, the most common reply was that they and their families would not have enough money to pay for things like food, heating, electricity or gas.
Bullying and/or being excluded was the second most identified impact of poverty on children, and the one which generated the most comments in the discussions, as were remarks about the impact of bullying on the mental health of children. The most common explicit responses referred to feelings of constant worry, sadness and loneliness. This was coupled with and discussed alongside children in poverty feeling different to other children; due to the bullying and social exclusion, but also because, in many instances, they did not have the financial resources to participate in the same social activities, even those as simple as ‘going out’ with their peers.
When asked, ‘In school, what do you think affects children and young people who live in poverty the most?’ respondents most often said that they witnessed bullying and stigmatization of children from poor families, which they felt created an unhealthy school environment. One of the stories quoted in the report was from Bulgaria: “The case is as follows: an excursion to a wonderful destination has been organised within the school setting. A certain number of people were financially sustainable and responded that they can visit the place. However, the number of people which was needed was insufficient. The groups of people who did not have the financial resources to take part in the excursion were psychologically abused as a result of that.”
The third most frequently mentioned impact of poverty on children’s experiences at school related to difficulty accessing school materials and food during inter-school hours.
Children were also asked if they knew of peers who were bullied because they did not have enough money or could not buy the same things as others. When asked how children would feel in such a situation, participants responded by mentioning negative emotions ranging from: ‘bad’ and ‘sad’ to ‘helpless’, ‘guilty’, ‘humiliated’, ‘angry’ and ‘lonely’.
In terms of how poverty affects children and young people at home, the most common response is that children may not be able to stay in their homes and are at risk of being forced to move elsewhere, including permanently. Other children said that living in poverty would mean that their quality of life was diminished because of homes in worse condition, colder, damp and/or without (hot) running water, and that children would be ashamed to invite their friends to visit as other children do.
Healthy relationships in the community can reinforce a sense of belonging. In contrast, isolation can reinforce feelings of alienation, impacting children’s sense of identity and self-worth. In answering the question: ‘What do you think affects children and young people who live in poverty in their community the most?’, most children identified that these children and young people will have to work to financially support their families. As mentioned by the participants from Bulgaria, this can negatively impact their free time, with children sacrificing time they should be spending with family and friends. It can also affect their education due to children feeling tired from work, and being ‘more unfocused or exhausted’ at school.
Other responses from children in relation to poverty and the community referred to living in an unsafe neighbourhood, and distinctly, living in a hostile neighbourhood environment. Children explained that children and families in poverty may ‘lack respect’ in their communities, and often find themselves isolated due to stigmatisation. They highlighted that their peers could miss out on participating in community activities because of financial restrictions caused by poverty, and that the isolation caused by this intra-community isolation could have long-lasting adverse effects
Children’s recommendations for decision-makers: What needs to change?
As part of the consultation, children were asked to suggest recommendations based on the following questions: • If you were in charge of your community or country, what would you do to stop poverty? • How can schools support children living in poverty? • Is there anything we can do in order to combat school bullying?
The children in the Maltese focus group provided diverse answers, bringing into the discussion a sustainable welfare state, state-level social schemes, and the role of education and teachers in preventing bullying and ending the stigma surrounding (child) poverty. In Bulgaria, the children’s recommendations focused on the establishment of need-based school scholarships, the importance of structured peer support in the effort to combat bullying, and the need for innovative awareness-raising and sensitisation measures. In Croatia, the need for (sufficient and affordable) housing schemes was prominent, as well as school-specific measures, such as fund-raising campaigns and free school meals. The children in the Estonian focus group emphasised the need for a minimum, sufficient income for all, as well as targeted financial support for families in poverty, including child support, and the importance of education in combatting the stigma around (child) poverty.
Specific measures mentioned by the participants from Bulgaria
- How can schools support children living in poverty?
“The schools can organise awareness raising campaigns in order to sensitize children and parents in terms of the problem.”
“The social scholarships [should] be increased.”
“All school representatives, especially teachers and psychologists should take care of those children, gain their trust and provide support.”
“Fundraising campaigns can also be organised.”
- Is there anything we can do in order to combat school bullying?
“We should pay more attention to the topic within of the school setting but also within other setting, such as the family environment. We should explore various approaches in order to support people who need that.”
“Bullying can be stopped with the help of a person who is a member of youth organizations and who understands what stands behind such a thing, and has the skills of an educator. If a person has such an experience, he/she can provide an advice to those who suffered and also to the others who mocking/torturing them.”
“Bullying can be stopped with education. However, the educators should use an unconventional approach. People should be able to put the shoes of the others and to explore what it is to live in poverty.”
Through its research, Eurochild reminds us that EU countries have made a clear commitment to tackling child poverty through the creation of a European Child Guarantee to tackle the root causes of poverty by ensuring access to key services. As part of the Guarantee, each Member State is tasked with drawing up its own National Action Plan covering the period up to 2030. An integrated approach is needed, focusing on the causes of poverty and social exclusion and using a cross-sectoral approach to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
See the full Eurochild document ‘Poverty takes childhood’ on our website here.
Eurochild brings together more than 200 organisations in 37 countries across Europe to advocate for children’s rights and well-being in close cooperation with European Union structures. NNC has been a member of Eurochild for more than 10 years and is the leading partner for Bulgaria in a number of focal policies, including the effective implementation of the European Child Guarantee.