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More than 40 percent of children in Armenia lived below the official poverty line last year, according to a government survey released this week.

The National Statistical Service (NSS) based the figure on a household income survey conducted across the country. A separate report publicized by it last week put the nationwide poverty rate at 36 percent, up from 28 percent registered in 2009.

The increased poverty is the mainly consequence of the 2008 global financial crisis that hit Armenia hard.

“Those households that have two and more children are poorer than other households that have one child or no children at all,” Diana Martirosova, head of a household unit at the NSS, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The children are a financial burden on them in the sense that they don’t generate revenue.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed concern over the latest NSS data, saying that the Armenian government should do more to tackle child poverty.

“If a child lives in poverty and especially in extreme poverty, then they lack their basic rights and lack access to healthcare, education and other public services,” said Emil Sahakian, a spokesman for the UNICEF office in Yerevan. “And if a child is deprived of those rights, they will have few chances of becoming successful after growing up … and that cycle of poverty will also affect their future family.”

The UNICEF estimates that only two-thirds of low-income families in Armenia receive monthly poverty benefits from the state. The fund says many of the families not eligible for the assistance have four and more children or disabled members or are led by single mothers. Sahakian urged the government to extend the modest social security net to them as well.

Mkhitar Mkhitarian, his wife and three underage daughters are one such family living in a rundown Yerevan hostel. Mkhitarian, who has no permanent job, claimed that it does not get any benefits because of having a car. “I had an old van but it broke down after a tree fell on it,” he said.

According to his wife Nina, the bulk of the modest family income is spent on basic food for the children, which rarely includes “luxuries” such as fruits and sweets. “You need 1,000-1,500 drams ($2.6-$4) a day to buy them fruits,” she explained.
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