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There is an unusual sculpture in front of Antwerp Cathedral on Handschoen Square: it shows the boy Nello and the dog Patrasche lying closely embraced under a blanket of cobblestones. The artwork is an attraction for local children and tourists alike.
The story behind it was written by the British author Marie-Louise De La Ramee in 1872 after she visited the Belgian city and was horrified by the way the working animals were treated there: Nello becomes an orphan and sells milk on the streets of the town. Patrasche runs to him and accepts the role of a draught animal that has to pull the cart with the milk and the jars. Just 100 years ago, many domestic dogs in the cities had such roles.
Despite all the misery, the boy has a dream: he would like to see two paintings by Peter Paul Rubens that hang in the cathedral because he is good at drawing – but the pictures are hidden under cloths and are only revealed for a fee.
One misfortune follows another until Nello finally has to sell Patrasche.
After a snowstorm, the two are reunited: Patrasche has escaped from the new owner, and the two friends find their way to the cathedral in the storm, where Nello hangs up the cloths and admires Rubens’ works.
The next morning, the two are found frozen to death.
The author had written the story under the title “A Dog of Flanders“ and published it under her pen name Ouida.
The plight of the poor at the beginning of industrialization was so great in many parts of the world that similar stories were written in many places, such as “A Christmas Carol“ (Carles Dickens, 1843) or “The Little Match Girl“ (Hans Christian Andersen, 1845). As a result, social movements emerged that also wanted to put an end to children’s poverty.
The Belgian sculptor Batist Vermeulen (artist’s name: Tist) created the sculpture of Nello and Patrasche. The choice of material gives the story a special touch: for the two friends in white marble, hugging each other tightly, even the cold and hard pavement is a warm and soft blanket that protects their friendship with great strength.
We have taken the opportunity to take a look at child poverty today.
Despite all the problems in the world, there is a positive trend: according to a study presented by the children’s charity Unicef to the UN General Assembly in September 2023, the number of children living in extreme poverty fell from 383 million to 333 million in the decade from 2013 to 2022. That is -13%.
By worst poverty, we mean that those affected have only US-$ 2.14 per day to live on. In the next stage of the statistics, the figure is US-$ 3.65 per day – the number of children here is 829 million. With 6.85 US-$ per day, 1.43 billion have to get by.
However, the Covid pandemic had economic consequences that also affected children. Unicef speaks of “three lost years of progress.“
The International Monetary Fund writes that the number of children affected by poverty in the EU increased by 19% in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
As part of their Sustainable Development Goals, the UN member states announced last year that ending child poverty was a key step on the path to stable societies with an environmentally friendly economy. Specifically, the goals at the time were to eradicate extreme child poverty (here: US-$ 1.90 per day) and halve the number of children in general poverty by 2030.
(25.12.2023, USA: 12.25.2023)