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Italy's kids stunted by recession, says Save the Children

Lower fertility, more teenage moms, obese kids, school dropouts

10 December, 16:31
Italy's kids stunted by recession, says Save the Children (ANSA) - Rome, December 10 - Italy's children are growing up physically, emotionally, and intellectually stunted by the recession, which has brought poverty, unemployment, and a lack of emotional, psychological, and environmental support in its wake, according to a new Save The Children report issued Tuesday. Titled ''Italy Upside Down'', the report documents a 7.4% drop in the country's fertility rate along with a rise in childhood obesity, teenage motherhood, and the rate of high-school dropouts.

''We found an Italy with fewer geographic differences than before, but this only means that the level has dropped everywhere,'' said Save The Children Italy President Claudio Tesauro. ''We must break the negative cycle of economic and educational poverty, which are feeding off each other''.

Poor parents make for sicklier children, and an indicator of this can be discerned in the smile of future adults: almost two million Italian children are growing up with crooked teeth, because one in three can't afford braces, the report showed. The report noted that 95% of dental care is private, and waiting lists at public clinics, where demand has risen 20%, have lengthened to absurd levels.

"Poverty is affecting the youngest part of the population the most. When the effects of recession intervene at key moments like education or access to a job, they tend to become permanent," warned Bank of Italy economist Paolo Sestito.

In the southern Calabria region alone, 12.9% of minors live in absolute poverty, against 10.3% nationally, and 17.3% drop out of school. Another 24.7% of kids aged 8-9 are overweight and 14.4% are obese: good food is expensive, and 83.9% of families have cut down on the quantity and quality of what they put on the table.

"Poverty in the 1980s affected the elderly. Now, unlike most other European countries, we find ourselves in a situation of permanent child poverty. We really need to ask ourselves how we came to this point," said Istat Director Linda Laura Sabbadini.

Poverty leads to fewer choices and narrower horizons growing up, the report showed in its analysis of the welfare crisis: more than 650,000 minors live in Italy's 72 bankrupt municipalities and its 52 almost-bankrupt ones. This means cash-strapped local governments are raising taxes and cutting services, such as schools, leading to more dropouts. Between 2007 and 2012, at least 17.6% of kids only reached junior high. This translates into an army of ill-qualified 758,000 youths who will likely swell the ranks of the unemployed under-30s: in July 2013, they became a record one million.

"Different starts in life are no longer being balanced out by education. We need to start investing in education again, so that all children get the chance to engage in sports, music, playtime, to experience beauty and to socialize," said Save the Children Italy Program Director Raffaela Milano.