The study is based on the analysis of comparable national data where the countries of the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are classified in the field of childhood.
The analysis seeks understand what determines the well-being of children in rich countries using pre-COVID-19 data and includes a classification table based on children’s physical and mental health and academic and social skills. Based on these indicators, the top three countries for minors are the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.
The director of the Office of Investigation of UNICEF, Gunilla Olsson, explained that “many of the richest countries in the world -which have the necessary resources to provide a good childhood for all- they are failing boys and girls“.
“Unless governments take swift and forceful action to protect the well-being of children as part of their responses to the pandemic, we can hope an increase in child poverty rates, a deterioration in mental and physical health and a deepening of the skills gap between boys and girls. COVID-19-related support for families and children is woefully inadequate. More needs to be done to provide children with a safe and happy childhood – now. “
Main findings of the report
Mental health: In most countries, less than four-fifths of children report being satisfied with their lives. Turkey has the lowest satisfaction rate at 53%, followed by Japan and the UK. Children who have less supportive families and those who are bullied have significantly worse mental health.
Lithuania has the highest teen suicide rate followed by New Zealand and Estonia.
Physical Health: Rates of obesity and overweight among children have increased in recent years. Approximately 1 in 3 children in all countries are obese or overweight, significantly increasing rates in southern Europe.
Abilities: On average, 40% of children in all OECD and EU countries lack basic reading and math skills by age 15. Children in Bulgaria, Romania and Chile are the least proficient in these skills, while those in Estonia, Ireland and Finland are the most capable. In most countries, at least 1 in 5 children are not confident in their social skills to make new friends. The minors of Chile, Japan and Iceland are those with the least skills in this area.
Progress in the well-being of children: On average, 95% of preschool-age children are enrolled in apprenticeships, and the number of 15-19 year olds not receiving education, employment or training has decreased in 30 out of 37 countries. However, these important advances are in danger of regressing due to the effects of COVID-19.
Based on their child welfare support policies and other factors such as the economy, society and the environment, Norway, Iceland and Finland are the nations with the highest-ranking child welfare support policies and framework.
School closure due to COVID-19
During the first half of 2020, most of the countries included in the report kept schools closed for more than 100 days due to the COVID-19 outbreak, while enforcing strict stay-at-home measures.
The report highlights that “the loss of family members and friends, anxiety, the limitations of staying at home, the lack of support, the closing of schools, the balance between work and family life, the limited access to medical care, along with economic losses caused by the pandemic They are catastrophic for the well-being of children, since they affect their mental and physical health, as well as their development.
UNICEF recommendations to protect and enhance the well-being of children:
- Take strong action to reduce income inequality and poverty and ensure that all children have access to the resources they need.
- Quickly address the serious lack of mental health services for children and adolescents.
- Expand family life support policies to improve work-family balance, especially access to quality, flexible and affordable childcare services.
- Strengthen measures to protect children from preventable diseases, in particular by reversing recent declines in immunization against measles.
- Improve policies regarding COVID-19 for families with children and ensure that budgets that support children’s well-being are fully protected from austerity measures.