Netherlands tops UN child well-being table for rich countries; US, UK at bottom

14 February 2007

The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are at the top and the United States and the United Kingdom at the bottom of a United Nations score card launched today that provides the first comprehensive assessment of the well-being of children and young people in the world’s advanced economies.

The study, produced by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, Italy, is based on six dimensions to measure the well-being of children – material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviours and risks, and young people’s own subjective sense of well-being.

“All countries have weaknesses to be addressed,” Innocenti Director Marta Santos Pais said of the Report Card 7: Child Poverty in Perspective.

“No single dimension of well-being stands as a reliable proxy for child well-being as a whole and several OECD countries find themselves with widely differing rankings for different dimensions of children’s lives,” she added, referring to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development that groups 30 industrialized nations.

The report shows that among all of the 21 OECD countries surveyed in the study there is room for improvement and that no single state leads in all six of the areas.

Based on an average ranking position for all six dimensions the Netherlands topped the chart with 4.2, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Greece, Poland, Czech Republic, France, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, United States and the United Kingdom, the last two with an average rank of 18 and 18.2 respectively.

The report finds no strong or consistent relationship between per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and child well-being. The Czech Republic, for example, achieves a higher overall rank for child well-being (12.5) than several much wealthier European countries. Also no country features in the top third of the rankings for all six dimensions.

Pointing out that the Convention on the Rights of the Child calls on all countries to invest in its children “to the maximum extent of available resources,” Ms. Santos Pais said international comparison was a way of testing this commitment.

“A country cannot be said to be doing the best it can for its children if other countries at a similar stage of economic development are doing much better – and that’s what the league tables are designed to show,” she added.

The report is intended as a first step towards regular and comprehensive monitoring of child well-being across the OECD. Its scope is limited by the availability of comparable data, which means that key areas such as mental and emotional health and child neglect and abuse are omitted. But UNICEF hopes it will help to stimulate the collection of more comprehensive and more timely data.

“All families in OECD countries today are aware that childhood is being re-shaped by forces whose mainspring is not necessarily the best interests of the child,” the report states. “At the same time, a wide public in the OECD countries is becoming ever more aware that many of the corrosive social problems affecting the quality of life have their genesis in the changing ecology of childhood.”

Given these conditions, the report points to an overall view that the time has come to attempt to re-gain a degree of understanding, control and direction over what is happening to children. “That process begins with measurement and monitoring. And it is as a contribution to that process that the Innocenti Research Centre has published this initial attempt at a multi-dimensional overview of child well-being in the countries of the OECD.”

 

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