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New UNICEF Report – Comparing Child Wellbeing across Rich Countries

10th April 2013 Posted in: Press Releases
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A new UNICEF report launched today, which looks at the state of children in the world’s most advanced economies, shows that a great deal more could be done to improve child wellbeing in New Zealand.

Report Card 11, the latest in the series from UNICEF’s Innocenti Office of Research, also highlights that government policy is significant across the industrialised world in determining many aspects of child wellbeing, with some countries doing much better than others at protecting their most vulnerable children.

The comparative data for New Zealand shows we are:
  • Ranked 32 out of 34 countries for young people who are not in any form of education, training or employment (NEETS)
  • Ranked 21 out of 35 countries for levels of child poverty, above Italy and Canada but below the UK and Australia.
  • Ranked 25 out of 34 countries for young people (aged 15-19 years) who are participating in higher education, ahead of Australia and the UK but below Spain and Greece.
  • Ranked 24 out of 35 countries for general homicide (deaths per 100,000) which has an impact on children’s safety and development. Australia, the UK and most European countries have fewer homicides per 100,000 than New Zealand.
  • Ranked 25 out of 35 countries for child health and safety (includes infant mortality and low birth weight, national immunization levels and death rate of children and young people).
Barbara Lambourn, National Advocacy Manager at UNICEF New Zealand, commented, “Report Card 11 uses the most recent internationally comparative data available and, although this means most information is from 2009-2010, we believe the strength of these international comparisons is in helping show overall patterns and high level findings on what countries are achieving for children.

“It’s clear from the comparisons where New Zealand is measured, that there is much progress yet to be made on the wellbeing of our youngest citizens. The report makes it clear that the costs of not safeguarding child wellbeing are a burden to the whole of society – not just for children growing up in poverty or deprivation. 

“As the report shows, a country’s GDP is not strongly related to children’s wellbeing. A government’s choice to have policies which enhance and support child wellbeing is much more significant.

“Failing to assist all children to develop to their full potential also imposes significant costs on businesses and economies with fewer skilled people able to enter the workforce,” said Ms Lambourn.

The report also shows what is achievable when governments commit to a plan of action to make children’s rights and wellbeing a priority. The country at the top of the overall table for child wellbeing is the Netherlands, with Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland placed next. The UK has also risen from the bottom of the table in 2007 (21 out of 21 countries) to mid-table (16 out of 29 countries). It introduced a Child Poverty Act in 2010, which has national targets and a national strategy for reducing poverty. Romania is at the bottom of the table. New Zealand does not feature in this overall rankings table for child wellbeing due to data requirements.

Ms Lambourn said, “It’s no surprise that the Netherlands comes out as the clear leader and is the only country ranked among the top five in all dimensions of child wellbeing. The Netherlands has a long standing political and social consensus about the importance of families and children, with universal support for the role of parenting.”

In New Zealand there is some positive news around the improvement of child immunisation rates, with 92% of children now fully immunised, up from 78% in 2007. In addition, Kiwi children up to the age of 15 also perform well in educational achievement in reading, maths, science and literacy - in the report we rank 4 out of 33 countries.

Ms Lambourn commented, “The improvement in New Zealand’s immunization rates and our high ranking in educational achievement are good news.  Dr Nikki Turner, Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, credits the improvement in immunization rates to the commitment of all levels of government and the setting of national targets.

“However, we know from our own data that much more needs to be done to ensure Maori and Pasifika children benefit from this increased priority for children. Similarly, in terms of education we are concerned about Maori and Pasifika children being left behind in a growing tail of educational underachievement.

“Report Card 11 gives us much food for thought in terms of New Zealand’s ability to do its best for our youngest citizens. We look forward to the Government’s response to the Expert Advisory Group’s (EAG) report on Solutions to Child Poverty, which was presented to the Government in December 2012.

“The range of solutions offered in the EAG’s report, provide some hope that children will be a primary consideration in the May Budget. We would also like to see measures embedded in legislation to provide better support for children and families,” Ms Lambourn added.

“Progress of this kind will allow us to return to our former status as a child-centred and child-friendly nation, where every child can grow and reach their full potential. We look forward to when we can be regarded internationally as a nation that cares and enacts policies which are central to the wellbeing of children,” Ms Lambourn said

Download UNICEF Report Card 11: Child well-being in rich countries (PDF, 3.32 MB)

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