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More Spanish kids trapped in poverty amid economic crisis

MADRID--Even before Spain's economic crisis engulfed her home, Patricia Martin struggled to provide for her three children on her husband's street sweeper salary of around 900 euros (US$1,200) a month.

But after his hours were slashed and his income halved two years ago, the family has slipped dangerously toward a life of destitution in their tiny flat in Vallecas, a working class neighborhood in southern Madrid.

The couple is facing eviction for not paying their rent for over a year and relies on food banks to feed their children.

When it rains, Martin keeps her children at home instead of having them walk one hour to school because they cannot afford the bus fare.

“If I don't have a snack to send with them I pretend I forgot to prepare it,” the 30-year-old said as her son, aged seven, and two daughters, aged eight and 10, played in a playground near their home.

“They don't say anything but it's very hard,” she added, her eyes swelling with tears. “I try to make the difficult situation they are living as easy to take as possible.”

Six years after a massive property boom went bust, wiping out millions of jobs, Spain is facing a sharp rise in child poverty as government spending cuts and sky-high unemployment take their toll.

The number of children at risk of poverty in the country has jumped by half a million since 2007, before the start of the economic crisis, to 2.5 million, according to a study by Spanish children's charity Educo.

Schools are facing the brunt of the rise in child poverty.

At the San Pedro and San Felices school in Burgos in northern Spain, a Catholic charter school, teachers say more children are coming to class without having showered because the water has been turned off at home due to unpaid bills, the school's director, Father Modesto Diez, said.

“They lack electricity and water at home, they live in deficient housing, their basic needs are not met. They come to class badly dressed and without eating properly,” he said.

Tensions are rising as a result. Children's charities say the economic downturn has caused cases of child abuse to soar.

A nationwide youth hotline run by the ANAR Foundation on Tuesday reported a “worrying” rise in the number of calls it received last year from children suffering physical or psychological abuse at home.

“We believe one of the reasons for this increase in abuse is unemployment and the economic difficulties faced by families, which heightens tensions and increases aggression in families,” the group's program director, Benjamin Ballesteros, told a news conference.

'Like the '50s'

Many parents cannot afford to pay for textbooks and have pulled their children out of the school's canteen service, which provides a hot lunch every day for a monthly fee of 102 euros (US$140).

Over 100 children used the service last year. Only 25 are signed up this year, of which 10 are having their fees covered by Educo.

On a recent visit over half the tables in the canteen were empty at lunchtime.

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