Youths speak out about child poverty in Sweden
It may come as a surprise to those who know Sweden for its state funded welfare system and high quality of life, that child poverty is on the rise.
When the final bell rings and school is finished for the day, many Swedish children go to their after-school activities. Children play sports, music or volunteer with charity organisations -that is, if their parents can afford it.
14 year old Dusan Marinkovic, a native of Malmö's Lindängen suburb, spends his afternoons rapping in youth movement RGRA's studio. RGRA, which stands for "the voice and face of the streets", provides cultural activities for children in Malmö who come from low income households, and whose after school activities are limited to hanging out in the streets.
"They kind of helped me get off the streets, they let me use the studio and taught me how to rap better. Who knows who I would have become if I hadn't gone to RGRA and been able to be with normal people instead of bad people", says Marinkovic.
"People are divided, discriminated and pushed out, but at RGRA we bring people together. We do activities that you don't need any money to do - you don't need an Xbox to have fun."
For children who come from low income families, poverty can lead to social exclusion and discrimination. A report published by Swedish NGO Save the Children in March states that of the quarter of a million children living in poverty in Sweden today, most come from single parent families, or families with immigrant backgrounds. In the case of the latter, social exclusion is caused not only by poverty, but by cultural discrimination and difficulties with integration.
Marinkovic, who is a Romani Serb, told Radio Sweden,
"I'm not born in Sweden, and when I came here I wasn't used to the Swedish food. They made me eat this carrot soup at school, and I ate it and puked. Then the other kids didn't want to play with me."
"My brother is in nursery school, and you can hear the other kids saying "he's a gypsy, don't play with him"."
In suburbs like Lindängen and Rosengård, where over half of the children live in poverty, street violence and crime rates are high. According to RGRA's founder, Behrang Miri, social exclusion, whether due to poverty or belonging to a minority ethnic group, is something that needs to be addressed in order to reduce destructive behaviour among young people.
"It's not the kids fault when it comes to destructive behaviour. Youths go into destructive behaviour because a lot of them don't feel like they are listened to, they feel lost and rootless. That's connected to child poverty and economic circumstances, as well as discrimination", he says.
Considering Sweden's high living standards and welfare state system, the standards for measuring child poverty in Sweden are of course different to those that are applied to other countries. A recent report from TNS market research showed that nearly one in five children who need glasses can not afford them. That's one indication of the effects of the rising child poverty.
RGRA's Miri says, "We forget sometimes that just because Sweden is a country where there is a good welfare system that things are changing. There is child poverty, we can see that from the statistics."
"People don't understand. They think that because they have food and clothes, there's no problem."
There is more at stake than just ensuring that children's basic needs are met. Children living in poverty usually take on adult responsibilities to help their families financially, which Miri says is a violation of their right to a childhood.
"It makes me so sad to see youths not being youths anymore. A lot of our youths act like adults at the age of 13. When you're a child, you need to be allowed to act like a child. When you're 25, you're not a child anymore."