One in four Polish children lives in poverty, according to a European Commission report – and many are hungry, according to other sources. Poland ranks last among the 27 EU countries in child poverty, lower than Romania and Bulgaria. Much of the child-poverty problem in Poland revolves around the fact that many Polish couples have lots of children. The poverty level that the European Commission has set for each EU country is as high as 60 percent of the average salary in the poorer countries. In Poland the poverty level is anything below an annual salary of 1,200 złoty per month. In Poland, the average salary is 2,500 złoty. The poverty level involves subsistence – money available to be spent on food, rent and clothing. Many families can pay for subsistence but lack the money to help their children achieve a better life. For example, they can’t afford books or other educational amenities for their children. And they can’t afford tickets to concerts, the theatre or movies – or money for travel.
Children in poor families often go hungry. One in three children in Poland goes to school without breakfast, according to the non-profit Polish Humanitarian Action organization. As many as 150,000 children who are going hungry are not part of a national program that provides money for additional nutrition for poor children. Donata Rapacka helps coordinate the Polish Humanitarian Action organization’s Pajacyk program, which collects funds to pay for school meals for poor children. She says about a fourth of the children who go hungry each day get some meal assistance from the government. Those who want to donate to the Pajacyk program may go to the organization’s Web site at www.pajacyk.pl. They can click on the empty belly of a wooden clown on the site to learn how to give money.
Hunger-related illness can take a big toll on children in poor families. If there is fungus in the home that parents lack the money to treat, or if there is no money for medicine, a child is vulnerable. Even a trip to an outhouse can chill a child to the point that he or she gets sick. “Children ill because of poverty are victims of a flawed social welfare system,” said Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, a former minister of labour who is now a member of parliament. “If we have any additional funds in the budget, they should be directed to the youngest among us,” she said.
Many people in capitalistic societies believe people should take care of themselves. That is a far cry from the communist system of the state taking care of those least able to care for themselves. But no society with a conscience can turn its back on needy children. The very reputation of a democratic society is at stake when it is unable to take care of the most helpless among it, especially children. The Polish government is trying to supply children?s basic needs. Its programs to pay for school lunches and additional nutrition for poor children are making a difference in many children’s lives. But poor children?s needs go beyond subsistence. Village children in particular need education and skills – such as computer training – to help them break out of poverty. Without that help, they will continue living on the margins of society as consumers of government benefits rather than providers of the tax money necessary to make society stronger.