22nd Sep 2023

Covid-19: Romania's rural kids hit hardest by pandemic

  • Over 60 percent of parents in the countryside have not worked during the pandemic, and close to half are unable to provide adequate food, medicine, hygiene products or school supplies for their children (Photo: World Vision)

One-in-ten children in Romania does not have enough food and ends up going to bed hungry, a study released by World Vision Romania, an NGO fighting child-exclusion, shows.

The pandemic and its economic fallout took its toll on Romania's most impoverished regions, where - in comparison to previous years - a greater number of people now resort to buying less food and relying on food received from friends and relatives, all against a backdrop of falling income.

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  • The drop in the quality of life hits the youngest the hardest, as one-in-five children from rural areas considers themselves to have never, or only rarely, felt happy (Photo: World Vision)

The study reveals that over 60 percent of parents in the countryside have not worked during the pandemic, and close to half are unable to provide adequate food, medicine, hygiene products or school supplies for their children.

The drop in the quality of life hits the youngest the hardest, as one-in-five children from rural areas considers themselves to have never, or only rarely, felt happy.

"The pandemic only made matters worse. Ever since restrictions began, we noticed that communities have been affected by social isolation, school closure, job loss, declining family income and overall health challenges, translating into an increased level of anxiety and fear in both parents and children", Mihaela Nabăr, head of World Vision Romania, told EUobserver.

The percentage for digital schooling is also at its lowest in rural areas. 40 percent of pupils have never attended classes held online, as more than half of parents in Romania's villages do not own a digital device to allow remote learning .

Also, one-in -three villages have very weak, or no, internet signal to allow children to get in touch with their teachers.

Rural areas in Romania have long had alarmingly-high dropout rates, which can only be exacerbated by the lack of digital equipment, after schools across the country went online.

An epicentre of poverty

If the Romanian countryside is underperforming in general in comparison to the rest of the country, no region has it worse than Vaslui county.

Not only does it register the highest unemployment in Romania, expected only to increase under Covid-19, but Vaslui is also notorious for one of the highest dropout-rates in the country, with 10 percent of high school students failing to complete school.

Vaslui county is one of EU's poorest regions, with Eurostat numbers showing GDP-per-capita only at 39-percent of the EU average.

The region's economy has been stagnant for years, providing little hope for change to the parents and their kids who have to study in one of the hundreds of schools equipped with only outdoor toilets, no running water or heating and wooden floors that can collapse at any time.

The lack of basic amenities - running water, indoor plumbing - both at home and at school challenges families with already dwindling earnings in following even the simplest hygiene measures to prevent infection with coronavirus.

It is expected that following the Covid-19 pandemic, the level of social exclusion, inequality and poverty will increase amongst kids, particularly those in rural areas.

This risk appears to be growing across the entire EU, as a recent report by the European Court of Auditors said that member states should urgently coordinate efforts to fight child poverty.

The auditors recommended that the EU Commission should set clear targets in reducing child poverty, as around one-in-four children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the 27-nation bloc.

That report shows Romania to top the list with 38 percent of its children at risk of poverty or social exclusion, while Denmark, the Netherland and Slovenia report the lowest such rates.

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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