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Children’s Life Chances in Poverty-Stricken Europe Decrease

A father and son beg in front of Alpha bank at Panapestimiou Street in Athens.
Milos Bicanski | Getty Images News | Getty Images
A father and son beg in front of Alpha bank at Panapestimiou Street in Athens.

Millions of children in Europe now face a "bleak future" of lower life expectancy and higher risks of going into care or becoming homeless as the economic crisis continues, organizations and social policy experts told CNBC.

Reporting that over 25 million children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion in Europe – that's one child in every four – experts told CNBC that Europe's financial crisis is a "social crime" caused and exacerbated by rising unemployment, budget cuts and lack on investment in future generations.

"Unfortunately we're likely to see more children going into care, more children dropping out of school and more families becoming homeless. It's difficult to see when the vicious cycle will end," Jana Hainsworth, the Secretary General of organization Eurochild, told CNBC.

Hainsworth's comments come as euro zone unemployment reached a record high of 12.1 percent in March. With some 19.2 million people now out of work in the single currency bloc, the jobless rate has reached the highest level since the euro's inception in 1999.

Unemployment rates are even worse for young people aged under 25, with over 50 percent of young people jobless in Spain and Greece.

"Many children and young people feel disengaged and a sense of hopelessness in the future. The very fabric of European society is at risk…governments need to take a long-term perspective and invest in future generations," Hainsworth added.

"Rather than protecting and reinforcing investment in children and families, governments are cutting budgets in the health, education and social sectors. The risks for the next generation are huge. We are witnessing growing inequalities and segregation in society," Hainsworth added.

Food Banks and Facts

Over the last few years as euro zone economies have contracted and austerity measures have been imposed across the continent, the popularity of food banks has risen as family homelessness and child abandonment increased.

(Read More: More Abandoned Children as Europe Austerity Wears On)

Chris Grover, senior lecturer in Social Policy at Lancaster University in the U.K., told CNBC the number of people using food banks, which provide a few days' supply of basic foodstuffs free of charge, tripled between 2011-12 and 2012-13 in the U.K.

"Similar services in Greece are feeding thousands of people on a daily basis [and] it is reported that the Red Cross is currently giving out more food in Europe than it has since the end of the Second World War," he added.

Grover, who is the author of a report entitled "Child Poverty in an Age of Austerity" for the U.K. child protection charity the NSPCC, said that countries imposing "brutal cuts" need "to think carefully about the longer term consequences of their actions."

(Read More: Seeds of Anger Sown in a Greek Soup Kitchen)

"Many children in the European Union currently face a bleak future because of cuts to public spending and the numbers living in poverty are likely to increase…Increasing levels of poverty among children will have a fundamental impact upon their life chances. The children of the least well off are more likely to die as children, and to die at younger age in adulthood than their better off peers," Grover said.

"They are also less likely to gain good educational qualifications, are more likely to be excluded from school and to be involved with criminal justice agencies, and to be working in low paid, casualized sectors of the economy. Overall, children born into poor families today are likely to die poor," he added.

Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Poverty in the Future

Grover told CNBC that governments had to invest in the future generation by increasing spending on education and vocational training for young adults if they are to be equipped to meet "future economic challenges."

(Read More: Depression, Suicides Rise as Euro Debt Crisis Intensifies)

For example, he said, it is estimated that the number of children living in poverty in the U.K. will increase from 2.5 million in 2011 to 3.3 million in 2020, and many experts are pessimistic about the target of raising 20 million people across Europe out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion by 2020," Grover said.

The European Commission has urged EU countries to put more emphasis on social investment but many governments are straining to invest in social programs and the educational infrastructure. Both Grover and Hainsworth said that they and "many experts" are pessimistic about the target of raising 20 million people across Europe out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion by 2020.

In a joint report with the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN), Eurochild noted that the current crisis was a "social crime."

"This is a social crime in an EU that prides itself on its social model, an attack on fundamental rights and a failure to invest in people and in our future. Can the EU afford the price?"

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