UNICEF Issues ‘Wake-up Call’ on Children in Rich Countries
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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A report by UNICEF shows that one in five children in high-income countries lives in relative income poverty, while one in eight faces food insecurity.

The publication focuses on ten SDGs considered most relevant to child well-being, using data on 25 indicators.

15 June 2017: A report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows that in high-income countries, one in five children lives in relative income poverty, while one in eight faces food insecurity. The publication focuses on ten SDGs considered most relevant to children’s well-being, and uses comparable data sources on 25 indicators selected to assess the status of children in high-income contexts.

The report, titled ‘Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries,’ serves as a “wake-up-call” that even in high-income countries “progress does not benefit all children,” said Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti. Key results on selected SDG indicators for children and adolescents in rich countries include:

  • SDG 1 (No poverty): On average, one in five children in high-income countries lives in relative income poverty. The results vary widely by country, however; in Denmark, Iceland and Norway, one in ten live in relative income poverty, while the occurrence is one in three in Israel and Romania.
  • SDG 2 (Zero hunger): An average of one in eight children in high-income countries faces food insecurity, rising to one in five in the UK and the US, and to one in three in Mexico and Turkey.
  • SDG 3 (Good health and well-being): Neonatal mortality has dramatically fallen in most countries, and rates of adolescent suicide, teenage births and drunkenness are declining. However, the publication notes, one in four adolescents reports two or more mental health issues more than once a week.
  • SDG 4 (Quality education): Even in the best-performing countries, including Japan and Finland, around one fifth of 15-year-olds do not reach minimum proficiency levels in reading, mathematics and science.
  • SDG 5 (Gender equality): On average, 14% of adults surveyed in 17 rich countries believe that boys deserve preference for university education.

In a majority of rich countries, trends are worsening on indicators such as income inequality, adolescent self-reported mental health and obesity. In two out of three countries studied, the poorest households with children are now further behind the average than they were in 2008. The rate of obesity among 11–15 year olds is increasing, and the rate of adolescents reporting two or more mental health problems a week is increasing as well.

A composite league table included with the report summarizes the performance of 41 EU and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries across the full range of indicators.

Based on the report’s results, UNICEF is calling for high-income countries to take action to: put children at the heart of equitable and sustainable progress; leave no child behind; improve the collection of comparable data, in particular on violence against children, early childhood development, migration and gender; use the rankings to help tailor policy responses to national contexts; and honor their commitments to SDG implementation. [UNICEF Press Release] [UN Press Release] [Publication: Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries]

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