Spain's child poverty crisis: Austerity policies take a toll

  • A boy draws at the Save the Children’s Puente de Vallecas Child Care Center in Madrid.
  • A view of the children’s bedroom of a poor, unemployed family in the Palmete neighborhood of Seville.
  • A child from a poor, unemployed family reaches for a snack in the Palmete neighborhood of Seville.
  • A child plays in the closet of a poor, unemployed family in the Palmete neighborhood of Seville.
  • A child of Roma ethnic origin stands in the playground of Menendez Pidal School in the Torre Blanca neighborhood of Seville.
  • An unemployed father of a family of humble origins watches his son play soccer from the doorway of their house on a street in the Palmete neighborhood of Seville.
  • A child of an unemployed family inside a newly constructed building expropriated by a bank and occupied by homeless families in Corrala La Utopia, Seville.
  • A Roma boy with adjustment problems plays while he is taken care of by Social Services from the City Council of Seville. 
  • The bedroom of a Roma child who collects scrap metal from the streets, in one of the prefabricated houses in the shantytown of El Vacie in Seville.
  • A girl of Roma ethnic origin bathes and grooms herself, helped by Social Service employees from the City Council of Seville. 
  • A shower in one of the prefabricated houses in the Isla Mayor neighborhood of Seville.
  • A girl in a bathroom of a prefabricated house in the shantytown of El Vacie in Seville.
  • A girl of a poor, unemployed family in the Palmete neighborhood of Seville.
  • Two boys from the slums of El Vacie are washed and bathed by Social Service employees from the City Council of Seville.
  • A boy stands outside the front door of his house one of the prefabricated houses in the shantytown of El Vacie in Seville.
  • Women volunteer their time to take care of children from families who are out of work and without financial means at the Maria Angeles Nursery in Aliento Association, Seville.
  •  A child from a poor, unemployed family plays in the doorway of his house in Las Vegas, Las Tres Mil Viviendas, Seville.
  • A child from a poor unemployed, family without means is attended to and looked after at the Maria Angeles Nursery, Aliento Association, in the shantytown “El Vacie”, Seville. 

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Six years after the 2008 global financial collapse, poverty and unemployment are still rending the social fabric of southern Europe. Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece have all been devastated, not just by the immediate fallout from economic collapse, but also by their membership in the Eurozone. Because these four countries employ the Euro as their official currency, the don’t have control over their own money supply, and so they need to rely on the so-called “Troika” – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – to provide economic stimulus.

In return for bailout founds, the Troika has demanded that struggling European Union member states pass one round after another of wide-ranging austerity budgets. In other words, at a time when economic stress had already caused regional unemployment and poverty to skyrocket, the Troika demanded that southern Europe eliminate vast swaths of its social safety net. Spain alone has shed tens of thousands of public sector jobscut salaries and benefits, and chipped away at assistance for the disabled.

The nation has taken a step away from austerity in its 2014 budget, but the cuts have left their mark. Spain’s unemployment rate is still close to 25%, and youth unemployment as of 2014 is still higher than 50%. But as always, in times of great economic stress, it is the most vulnerable populations that suffer more than anyone else. Spain is in the midst of a child poverty crisis.

In 2011, Spain’s child poverty rate was in excess of 30%, according to a report from the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights. The commissioner, Nils Muižnieks, cited austerity as a direct cause for the high poverty figures. He singled out forced evictions and cuts to the education budget in particular.

The international NGO Save the Children was even more blunt in a recent report on Spanish child poverty.

“The austerity policies are not only diminishing the financial capacity of families,” wrote the report’s authors. “They are also weakening essential areas for the protection of children from poverty: Social services, education, health care and even the capability of social action organizations.”

To accompany the Save the Children’s report, Spanish photographer Aitor Lara captured stark, black-and-white photographs of impoverished children in Spain. 

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography

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