Children in far south of Thailand lag behind in nutrition, immunization and learning, NSO and UNICEF survey finds

31 March 2021
Students living in the far south of Thailand are playing happily in their classroom.
UNICEF Thailand/2012/Jingjai N.

YALA, 31 March 2021 – There are positive developments in children’s well-being in the southernmost provinces, but children living in the region remain more disadvantaged in key areas such as nutrition, immunization, availability of books at home, basic learning skills and secondary school attendance, according to a UNICEF-supported survey by the National Statistical Office (NSO) released today on the situation of children and women in the far south.

In October 2020, NSO and UNICEF released data from a national survey on the situation of children and women conducted in May-November 2019, known as the sixth Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey or MICS 6. The provincial report, or the 17 Provinces MICS, launched today will help identify issues adversely affecting the well-being and development of children in the most disadvantaged and vulnerable provinces in Thailand, particularly in Songkhla, Satun, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces in the far south.

“I am encouraged to see evidence that Thailand has made considerable progress in several areas of child well-being in the far south,” said Kyungsun Kim, UNICEF Representative for Thailand.

“That said, thanks to the National Statistical Office we now have evidence that too many children in the far south remain malnourished, vulnerable to serious diseases, out of school and lacking skills and resources to learn at home and school – setting them back not just a few years behind their peers in other provinces but for a lifetime. The data was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, so the situation now is even more concerning. The pandemic must be seized as an opportunity to invest in these key areas for children’s well-being so that those most in need can grow up healthy, develop to their full potential and contribute to the progress and well-being of society no matter where they come from.” Kim said.

Wanpen Poonwong, Director-General of the NSO said "The results of the MICS report on 17 provinces, including the five southernmost provinces, clearly reflects the many challenges children face in accessing basic rights and services. The data can be used to help shape policies to promote the well-being of children and women across Thailand and to realize the Sustainable Development Goals related to children and women.”

The survey shows positive trends in children’s well-being in the far south. Iodized salt consumption has improved significantly over the past decade, which is critical for brain development in childhood. More than 90 per cent of households with children in Satun, Yala and Narathiwat provinces consume iodized salt, compared with the national average of 85 per cent.

More children in the far south are living with their parents compared with other regions in Thailand. The survey found that less than 15 per cent and as low as 5 per cent of children under 18 across all five southernmost provinces are not living with their biological parents, lower than the national average of 24 per cent.

Child protection has also improved in the far south compared with previous years, with all five southernmost provinces seeing lower adolescent birth rates. Since 2015, fewer children aged 1-15 in Songkhla, Satun and Yala provinces are facing violent discipline. Notably, this rate varies greatly across the region – from 25 per cent in Yala Province to 89 per cent in Narathiwat Province.

Yet the survey also highlights an alarming trend of childhood malnutrition in the far south, which may have a lifelong impact on children’s development, learning and productivity. Children in this region are among the most malnourished in the country. In Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces, around 23 per cent of children under 5 are stunted or have a low height-for-age. These stunting rates are almost double the national average of 13 per cent.

Narathiwat Province also has the highest rate of wasting or low weight-for-height among the 17 provinces surveyed. About 16 per cent of children under 5 are wasted, while the national average stands much lower at 8 per cent. The wasting rate in Pattani province is also concerning at 10 per cent.

Immunization is a major concern in the far south. While 82 per cent of 1-year-old children in Thailand are fully immunized, almost half of their peers in Narathiwat Province are not.

In addition, while 34 per cent of children under 5 in Thailand have three or more books at home, fewer than 27 per cent in the five southernmost provinces do. Hardly any children under 5 in Narathiwat Province have books at home at 3 per cent.

While almost all primary school age children in the far south are attending school, few have skills that make learning possible. Thirty-six to as low as 18 per cent of children of ages 7-8 in Narathiwat, Songkhla, Pattani and Yala provinces are able to successfully complete three foundational reading tasks – far lower than the national average of 52 per cent. Only 32 per cent and 12 per cent of children of ages 7-8 in Yala and Pattani provinces are able to complete four foundational numeracy tasks, respectively, compared with the national average of 47 per cent.

Children in the far south are out of school at much higher rates than across the country. Five to 8 per cent of lower secondary school age children in Narathiwat, Songkhla, Pattani and Satun provinces are out of school, above the national average of 3 per cent. This gap further widens with 19 to as high as 36 per cent of upper secondary school age children in Pattani, Songkhla and Narathiwat provinces out of school, while the national average is 18 per cent.

MICS is conducted every three years. MICS 6 provides data on more than 150 indicators on the health, development and protection of children and women in 40,660 households in Thailand.

Download MICS 6 provincial report at:

Media contacts

Iman Morooka
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Thailand
Tel: 061-414-6488
Nattha Keenapan
Communication Officer
UNICEF Thailand Country Office


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