UNICEF: Young of Central Asia and Eastern Europe Suffering Blame and Banishment

VIENNA, 19 July 2010 - An underground HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is intensifying at an alarming pace, fueled by drug use, high-risk sexual behavior and high levels of social stigma that discourage people from seeking prevention information and treatment, according to a new report released today by UNICEF.

The report, “Blame and Banishment: The underground HIV epidemic affecting children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” highlights the issues faced by children living with HIV, adolescents engaged in risky behaviors, pregnant women using drugs, and the more than one million children and young people who live or work on the streets of the region.

Marginalized young people are exposed on a daily basis to multiple risks, including drug use, commercial sex and other exploitation and abuse, putting them at higher risk of contracting HIV. The trends are especially troubling, as the region is home to 3.7 million injecting drug users – almost a quarter of the world total. For many, initiation into drug use begins in adolescence.

Existing health and social welfare services are not tailored to adolescents at greatest risk, who are often exposed to moral judgment, recrimination and even criminal prosecution when they seek treatment and information on HIV.

“Children and adolescents living on the margins of society need access to health and social welfare services, not a harsh dose of disapproval,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director.

To reach and help young people living with HIV or at risk of HIV infection, medical and civil authorities need to establish non-judgmental, friendly services that address the special needs of marginalized adolescents.

In the Russian Federation, for example, over 100 youth-friendly service facilities have been established, providing reproductive and sexual health services, information, counseling and psychological support. The Atis health center in Moldova is another initiative that is showing promise and saving lives.

“We cannot break the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic in eastern Europe and Central Asia without empowering and protecting children and adolescents,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “We must not rob them of their childhood.”

“It is our responsibility to ensure that they have access to HIV prevention and treatment services.”

An HIV prevention and treatment center in Tajikistan is breaking down barriers of mistrust to reach adolescent girls selling sex. As one young client said, “In the beginning, I did not believe that the medical check-up, the treatment and condoms would really be free of charge and anonymous. I thought it was another trap by the police. I agreed to go there with an outreach worker for the first time, but now I go there alone and encourage my friends to use the service as well.”

A recent six-country UNDP study conducted in the region showed that many adults living with HIV fear the social stigma attached to seeking treatment more than they fear the disease, thus driving the epidemic further underground.

The stigma associated with HIV is not restricted to adults and adolescents. Young children living with HIV are routinely denied access to school and kindergartens, and when their status is known, they face rejection and abuse. Alla, the foster mother of an HIV-positive child, tells how her son was ostracized when someone leaked his HIV status to other families. “His classmates say that he is ‘disgusting’ and refuse to play with him,” she said.

“This report is a call to protect the rights and dignity of all people living with or at risk of exposure to HIV, but especially vulnerable children and young people. We need to build an environment of trust and care, not one of judgment and exclusion,” said Lake. “Only by reversing discrimination against people living with HIV, can Eastern Europe and Central Asia begin to reverse the spread of the epidemic.”

Attention broadcasters:


Fifteen children aged between 12 and 18 from across Ukraine gathered in the capital Kyiv to participate in a OneMinuteJr video workshop, invited by UNICEF and the NGO “All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS”. Many of the young Ukrainians taking part in this workshop are HIV-positive or have HIV-positive friends or family members. Each teenage participant has produced a 60-second duration film highlighting how HIV/AIDS is having an impact on their lives. The best films will also be shown in different venues at the Global AIDS conference in Vienna. Preview them at: youtube


UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

For further information, please contact:

  • Kate Donovan, UNICEF New York, +43 699 195 405 08 or +1 917 378 2128, kdonovan@unicef.org
  • Veronika Vashchenko, UNICEF Kyiv, + 43 699 181 496 93 or +38 050 388 2951, vvashchenko@unicef.org
  • John Budd, UNICEF Geneva, + 41 22 909 5429, jbudd@unicef.org

The ILO study says that, if current policies persist, a recovery in employment to pre-crisis levels will be delayed until 2015 in advanced economies, instead of 2013 as it projected one year ago.

At the same time, the report says, while employment in the emerging and developing countries has resumed growing, over 8 million new jobs are still needed to return to pre-crisis levels in those countries.

“The longer the labour market recession, the greater the difficulties for jobseekers to obtain new employment,” the ILO report says. “In the 35 countries for which data exists, nearly 40 per cent of jobseekers have been without work for more than one year and therefore run significant risks of demoralisation, loss of self-esteem and mental health problems. Importantly, young people are disproportionately hit by unemployment.”

“Fairness must be the compass guiding us out of the crisis,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “People can understand and accept difficult choices, if they perceive that all share in the burden of pain. Governments should not have to choose between the demands of financial markets and the needs of their citizens. Financial and social stability must come together. Otherwise, not only the global economy but also social cohesion will be at risk.”

Among the key findings of the new ILO study based on data from some 150 countries:

  • Cases of social unrest related to the financial and economic crisis have been reported in at least 25 countries – many of them in advanced economies. In some recovering emerging economies, social unrest over the level of wages and working conditions has been registered.
  • Many countries that experienced positive employment growth at the end of 2009 are now seeing a weakening of the jobs recovery. At the same time, the report says that by the end of 2009, more than four million jobseekers had stopped looking for work in the countries for which information is available.
  • In more than three-quarters of 82 countries with available information, peoples' perceptions of their quality of life and standard of living declined in 2009 compared to similar data from 2006.
  • Even among people with jobs, satisfaction at work has deteriorated significantly with a sense of unfairness growing in 46 of 83 countries.
  • In 36 of 72 countries, people have less confidence in governments now than prior to the crisis.

The study provides new evidence to support the conclusions of a historic joint ILO and International Monetary Fund (IMF) conference held in Oslo on 13 September to discuss challenges of growth, employment and social cohesion. The study data underscore the urgency of implementing calls by the Conference for placing employment creation at the heart of the economic recovery, and making full employment a key macroeconomic objective alongside low inflation and sound fiscal policies.

Raymond Torres, Director of the International Institute and lead author of the report, said two main reasons explain the bleaker outlook facing many countries in the global economy: “The first is that fiscal stimulus measures that were critical in averting a deeper crisis and helped jump-start the economy are now being withdrawn in countries where recovery, if any, is still too weak,” he said. “The second, and more fundamental factor is that the root causes of the crisis have not been properly tackled”.

The report says “the coexistence of private-debt-led growth in certain developed countries with export-led growth in large emerging economies has proved to be the Achilles’ heel of the world economy”. Recovery will be fragile as long as labour incomes continue to grow less than justified by productivity developments and the financial system remains dysfunctional.

The ILO study provides a three-pronged approach for getting out of the crisis that would stimulate job creation in the short run and better-quality economic growth in the future. This approach would combine, first, the strengthening of job-centred policies in order to reduce the risk of growing long-term unemployment, higher structural informality and skills’ mismatch in the event of recovery. These measures include well-designed active labour market policies, targeted measures to support vulnerable groups, notably youth, training policies that serve the needs of recovery – in countries where this takes place – and employment-oriented social protection. The Report gives concrete examples of how such measures have been used successfully in different regions of the world and are not expensive to the public purse. They support labour market participation and quality jobs in the longer run, thereby reducing pressures on public spending and generating more revenues.

The second policy plank would be to promote a closer link between wages and productivity gains in surplus countries, as this would quickly boost sustainable job creation in both surplus and deficit countries. Such a measure, the study shows, would be more effective in supporting growth in all countries than exchange rate changes.

And a third would require that a true financial reform be carried out that allows savings to be channelled to more productive investment and the creation of more stable jobs.

The World of Work report is an annual study by the ILO International Institute of Labour Studies, which provides an assessment of the current state of labour markets.