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Report Card 11 released by UNICEF charts the well-being of children in 29 rich countries

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A young girl playing on a swing in a playground in the city of Zurich, Switzerland. According to the Report Card 11, produced by the UNICEF Office of Research, which assesses child well-being, Switzerland ranks 8th out of 29 nations of the industrialized world.

A new report released by UNICEF charts the well-being of children in rich countries.

FLORENCE, Italy, 10 April 2013 – Greek bail-outs, Spanish debt and euro-zone scrambling mean little to a 10-year-old, but the impact of public spending cuts and belt-tightening spells real hardship for poor children and families.  

It is hard to say how deep and sustained the current financial crisis might be. What is clear, however, is that its results will be seen in the coming years, based as much on policies taken to safeguard the rights of children and youth during this crisis as on the crisis, itself.

State of children in rich countries

Report Card 11: Child well-being in rich countries, from UNICEF’s Office of Research, examines the state of children across the ‘rich’ world. As debates continue to generate strongly opposed views on the pros and cons of austerity measures and social spending cuts, Report Card 11 charts the achievements of 29 of the world’s advanced economies in ensuring the well-being of their children during the first decade of this century.

This international comparison, says the report, proves that child poverty in these countries is not inevitable, but policy susceptible – and that some countries are doing much better than others at protecting their most vulnerable children.

• Download the full report.
• See interactive infographic for details by country.
• View video interview with Peter Adamson, author of the report.

The report finds that the Netherlands and three Nordic countries – Finland, Iceland and Norway – again sit at the top of a child well-being table, while four southern European countries – Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain – are placed in the bottom half. 

Child well-being measured

Report Card 11: measures development according to five dimensions of children’s lives – material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviour and risks, and housing and environment. 

The study does not find a strong relationship between per capita GDP and overall child well-being. For instance, Slovenia ranks higher than Canada, the Czech Republic higher than Austria, and Portugal higher than the United States of America.

Despite setbacks in some countries on specific indicators, the overall story of the 2000s is one of steady improvement in various fields of child well-being in the industrialized world. Every country for which data are available saw reductions in infant mortality and ‘low family affluence’, while the rate of further education enrolment increased.

However, given the continued absence of up-to-date internationally comparative data on children’s lives (most data in the report apply to the period 2009–2010, the latest comparative information available), Report Card 11 reflects the outcome of government decisions in the period before the crisis. The report states that the three years of economic hardship since then do not bode well for the present or near future.

Good news in behaviours and risks

Nonetheless, for the most part, these data track long-term trends and reflect the results of long-term investments in children’s lives. Average levels of school achievement, or immunization rates, or the prevalence of risk behaviours, for example, are not likely to be significantly changed in the short term by the recession of the past three years.

And, when looking at the ‘behaviours and risks’ dimension of child well-being, there is good news across the board.

For instance, among children aged 11, 13 and 15 in the 29 countries under review, only 8 per cent say they smoke cigarettes at least once a week, just 15 per cent report having been drunk at least twice in their life, and about two-thirds are neither bullied nor involved in fighting. Ninety-nine per cent of girls do not get pregnant between the ages of 15 and 19.

However, exercise levels are low, with Ireland and the United States of America the only countries in which more than 25 per cent of children report exercising for at least an hour a day.
Voices too seldom heard

To launch Report Card 11, UNICEF is organizing an event in Dublin, Ireland, on 10 and 11 April in association with the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and in collaboration with Eurochild and the European Anti-Poverty Network. The event will build on the momentum generated by the adoption of the European Commission Recommendation ‘Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage’.

“Whether in today’s time of economic crisis, or in better financial periods, UNICEF urges governments and social partners to place children and young people at the heart of their decision-making processes,” said Director of UNICEF’s Office of Research Gordon Alexander. “For every new policy measure considered or introduced, governments explicitly have to explore the impact and effects on children, families with children, adolescents and young adults. These groups do not have a voice in the political processes, or their voices are too seldom heard.”


 

 

Interview with Peter Adamson, author of the report

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