Rich Countries Fail Their Children in UNICEF Report on Children’s Well-Being


A new study on children’s well-being in rich countries released last week by UNICEF’s Office of Research finds that rich countries such as the United States and the UK fail their children on poverty, education and overall well-being. Top ranking in the list are Netherlands, followed by four Nordic countries – Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

UNICEF’s report included 29 developed countries, OECD and EU members and was based on the following criteria – maternal well-being, education, health and safety, behavior and risk, housing and environment. The report concluded that in many rich, industrialized countries children’s well-being is endangered by the financial crisis-driven austerity policies and bailouts. Of course, many other problems were found and UNICEF’s research chief Gordon Alexander urges governments to guide their policies in such a way to guarantee and safeguard the economies and children’s future. Apart from the objective fields that were assessed, the study also included children’s views on their own satisfaction which were mostly in tune with the data-based measurement. The survey was conducted by United Nations Children’s Fund and called Report Card 11: Child Well-Being in Rich Countries.

Most of the data on the report is from 2010 which taken the last three years of economic hardship, means that the current situation in some regions is even worse. The criteria that the rankings were based on were called dimensions and the only country that topped all five dimensions in child well-being, is the Netherlands. The country is also a clear leader in the individual evaluations with 95% of its children rating their lives above average. The bottom four places in the table are occupied by three of the poorest countries in the whole study – Lithuania (27), Latvia (28) and Romania at the last 29th place. The surprising fact is that just above them, on 26th place stays one of the richest countries, the United States which has high rates of teenage births. Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia had smoking rates of over 10 percent of the children. Less than half of the children in Romania and Slovenia received a daily breakfast.

The report didn’t find a strong connection between per capita GPD, the standard measure of national wealth, and the overall children’s well-being. According to the researchers, there are signs that the gap between the Central and Eastern European countries and more advanced economies is shrinking. Another highlight of the survey was the finding that the levels of exercise are low – only in the United States and Ireland more than 25 percent of the kids exercised for hour or more daily.

Overall, the conclusion of the survey are that children’s well-being is improving but not in all fields. There are some countries that are more involved in the child care while others, although economically advanced, need to focus on taking new measures for securing the future of the next generations. Many countries such as Japan, Israel, Mexico, Bulgaria, Cyprus, New Zealand, Australia, and Turkey were not included in the report due to lack of data on some indicators.


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