Child welfare around the world, a UNICEF report


Several children play soccer on Mount Meda, in Lugo. Spain ranks sixth in a report on childhood well-being prepared by Unicef, which reveals that overweight is the weak point of Spanish minors and mental health is its best indicator. EFE / Eliseo Trigo / Archive

The study places Spain in sixth place within a ranking that offers a general analysis of child welfare and which includes 38 countries of the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD ).

The list is topped by the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, followed by Switzerland and Finland. After Spain, France, Belgium, Slovenia and Sweden complete the top ten places.

Chile, Bulgaria and the United States appear at the bottom, while some states such as Mexico or Turkey do not appear in the ranking due to lack of data in some areas.

For its preparation, the Unicef ​​Research Office (Innocenti) takes into account several indicators, which are then grouped into three main areas: mental well-being, physical health and capacities for adult life.

For the first, suicide rates among adolescents aged 15 to 19 and surveys are taken into account that ask if they are satisfied with their lives; for the second, the study focuses on infant mortality and the percentage of obese children; and for the third, at the level in language and mathematics and surveys on the facilities to make friends.

Spain, for example, stands out in mental well-being (third best country) and capabilities (fourth), while it is much lower in health (23rd).

Data prior to the COVID-19 pandemic

The data is prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but UNICEF warns of the threat that the current crisis poses to child welfare.

“Unless governments take swift and determined action to protect the well-being of children as part of their response to the pandemic, we can continue to expect rising child poverty rates, a deterioration in mental and physical health, and a growing difference in capabilities among children, ”Gunilla Olsson, director of Innocenti, said in a statement.

Olsson denounced that, already before COVID-19, many of the richest countries in the world were failing their children despite having more than enough resources.

Thus, the study highlights the increase in obesity in many places, especially in southern Europe, and the fact that infant mortality is still above 1 in 1,000 in a quarter of the countries analyzed.

It also points out that, on average, 40 percent of children in the EU and OECD do not have basic reading and math levels by age 15, with Bulgaria, Romania and Chile being the worst, with more than 60 percent .

In terms of mental health, the report notes that in most countries the percentage of children satisfied with their lives is below 80 percent, with places like Turkey where the proportion falls to 53 percent.

Lithuania has the highest teen suicide rate, followed by New Zealand and Estonia.

In the positive section, Unicef ​​highlights the generalization of preschool education and the fall in the number of young people between 15 and 19 years old who neither study nor work, but warns that these progress may be lost due to the impact of the coronavirus.

“As the economic, educational and social effects of the pandemic take hold, without a concerted effort there will be a devastating impact on the well-being of children, their families and the societies in which they live,” said Olsson.

Unicef ​​insists governments on the need to invest in children and includes in its study a ranking of countries ordered by an assessment of their childhood policies and other basic conditions such as the economy or the environment.

In that list, unlike the main one, Spain appears at the bottom, in position 33 out of 41 states, flanked by nearby countries such as France and Italy.

child malnutrition
Prevalence of children under 5 years of age who do not grow well, by region. Photo taken from Unicef’s “State of the World’s Children 2019”

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