Thailand’s national survey shows drop in adolescent birth rate, but worrying trend in child nutrition and secondary school drop-out
Children from poor families lagging behind in health, education and overall development
BANGKOK, 20 October 2020 – The largest national survey on the situation of children and women in Thailand, released today by the National Statistical Office (NSO) and UNICEF, shows progress in many key areas, including a significant drop in adolescent birth rates and violent discipline at home. Yet, it also underlines a worrying trend in child nutrition and school drop-out among secondary-school aged children.
Conducted by the NSO every three years with the support of UNICEF, the sixth Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey for Thailand, or MICS 6, collected data of over 150 indicators on the health, development and protection of children and women in over 40,660 households across Thailand from May to November 2019.
MICS 6, which follows international standards and provides data for nationwide comparison, also highlights significant disparities among different groups of children. Key factors in these disparities include the region in which children live, household wealth, mother’s educational level and ethnicity.
According to the survey, adolescent birth rates decreased from 51 births per 1,000 women in 2015 to 23 births per 1,000 births in 2019. The prevalence of violent discipline at home also decreased, with 58 per cent of children under the age of 14 subjected to physical and psychological punishment by household members in 2019, compared with 75 per cent in 2015.
Progress was also made in immunization coverage (82 per cent), iodized salt consumption (85 per cent) and attendance in early childhood education (86 per cent).
However, the survey highlights a serious concern in child nutrition with increasing rates of young children suffering from stunting, wasting and overweight, which could pose a long-term negative impact on their brain development, health and well-being.
Thirteen per cent of children under 5 are stunted or too short for their age due to inadequate nutrition over a long period of time. At the same time, 8 per cent of children are wasted (low weight-for-height) and 9 per cent are overweight. The findings show an increasing trend since 2015 when stunting, wasting and overweight rates among children under 5 were at 11, 5 and 8 per cent, respectively.
In addition, while breast milk is the best source of nutrition for babies for promoting their brain development and protecting them from illnesses, only 14 per cent of children were exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life, compared with 23 per cent in 2015.
Children whose mothers had no education, children living in households headed by non-Thai speakers and children living in the poorest households are more likely to be malnourished than other children, with stunting rates at 19, 18 and 16 per cent, respectively.
Across the country, Bangkok has the highest prevalence of stunting and overweight, both at 17 per cent.
Ms. Wanpen Poonwong, Director-General of the NSO, said, “the findings from MICS 6 should be used as widely as possible among policy makers, government agencies, academics, media and the public to shape policy discussion and development in order to address the many challenges still facing children in Thailand.”
The survey also underlines inequality in education. While almost all children (96 per cent) attended and completed primary education, there was a significant drop in secondary and upper-secondary school attendance among children from the poorest households (82 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively).
The findings show that boys are more likely to be out of school than girls. Across the nation, the southern region has the lowest attendance rate in secondary and upper secondary education at 77 per cent and 56 per cent, respectively.
“Thailand has made impressive progress in improving the lives of millions of children in recent decades, and we should celebrate that the hard work of the government and civil society is paying off,” said Thomas Davin, UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “But the survey also underlines worrying trends in young children’s nutrition, secondary school drop-out rates and the number of children growing up without their parents. These key concerns which undermine children’s well-being will likely worsen due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and if not addressed, will pose a critical challenge in the face of Thailand’s ability to leverage its incredible human capital potential – the children.”
“These findings are a wake-up call for everyone to do more and act faster in order to address many of these chronic issues,” Davin added.
“The pandemic can also be seen as an opportunity to reprioritize and invest in these key areas for children’s health and growth. It deserves the full attention of policymakers to ensure better development and well-being for every child in Thailand.”
Other key findings in MICS 6 include:
● Availability of books: While books are crucial for child stimulation and development, only 34 per cent of children under 5 have at least three children’s books at home, compared with 41 per cent in 2015. The rate drops to just 14 per cent in the poorest households, compared with 65 per cent in the wealthiest households.
● Use of electronic devices among young children: 53 per cent of children under 5 years of age play with electronic devices. Half of these children play with electronic devices on average for one hour or more per day, and 8 per cent play on average for three hours or more.
● Parental involvement: Wealthier households engaged in activities that support learning more than poorer families, especially among fathers. Only 34 per cent of fathers engaged in four or more activities that promote learning and school readiness. The rate is even lower among fathers from the poorest households (20 per cent) and in the northeast (22 per cent), compared with the wealthiest households (55 per cent) and in Bangkok (60 per cent).
● Reading and number skills: Less than 6 in 10 children (57 per cent) attending Grade 2 and 3 have basic reading skills, and just about half (51 per cent) have basic number skills.
● School drop-out: About 18 per cent of upper secondary-school aged children are out of school, an increase from 14 per cent in 2015. The rate is higher among children living in the poorest households (32 per cent) and in households headed by non-Thai speakers (31 per cent) and children whose mothers had no education (29 per cent).
● Children not living with parents: Millions of children in Thailand are growing up without the care of their parents, mainly due to internal migration. Almost 1 in 4 children (24 per cent) under the age of 17 or around 3 million children have absent parents. The proportion is highest in the northeast (36 per cent) and among children from the poorest households (39 per cent).
The survey provides data on a range of other critical issues such as breastfeeding, early childhood development, school attendance, parenting and child discipline, child marriage and access to social transfers. Download the full report and key findings at http://bit.ly/MICS6EN
Download more photos: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1ONhmWM-ihP3pBpRnawuPSNiDQzMUMlc8?usp=sharing
MICS6 photos by Roengrit Kongmuang: NSO and UNICEF team members visited communities in Mae Hong Son Province to collect data on their health, education and protection. The MICS6 survey – the largest national survey on children and women in Thailand – collected data from over 40,660 households from May to Nov 2019.
Note to Editors
The Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) is an international household survey programme developed by UNICEF in the 1990s. Since then, close to 330 surveys have been implemented in over 115 countries. The sixth round of MICS has about 70 surveys, making it the largest round and includes a range of low, middle and high-income countries and many which are in post-emergency periods.
In Thailand, MICS 6 was conducted by the National Statistical Office with support from UNICEF. It collected data of over 150 indicators on the health, development and protection of children and women in over 40,660 households across Thailand from May to September 2019 through face-to-face interviews with families. These data are essential for developing evidence-based policies and programmes, and for monitoring progress toward national goals and global commitments.
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