LONDON (Reuters) - The Netherlands ranks first and Romania last among 29 developed countries examined in a UNICEF report on the well-being of children that warns budget-slashing governments to spare a thought for future generations.
Nordic countries held the rest of the top five places in a survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund based on criteria of material well-being, health and safety, education, behavior and risk, housing and environment.
Britain was ranked 16th and the United States 26th.
In its “Report Card 11: Child well-being in rich countries”, UNICEF urged governments to place children at the heart of their decision-making in their efforts to slash national debt burdens.
A 2008 financial crisis has led to austerity policies across the West and bailouts for several European countries.
“For every new policy measure considered or introduced, governments explicitly have to explore the impact and effects on children, families with children, adolescents and young adults,” UNICEF research chief Gordon Alexander said in a statement.
Examples of problems found by UNICEF included relatively high rates of teenage births in the United States, Britain and Romania, smoking rates of over 10 percent among children in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia, and the provision of breakfast on a daily basis for fewer than half the children in Romania and Slovenia.
The report showed that per capita GDP, a standard measure of national wealth, did not always translate into better overall child well-being. It pointed out that 12th-placed Slovenia ranked higher than a wealthier Canada at No. 17, while tiny Portugal at No. 15 ranked higher than the United States.
UNICEF said most of the data in the report was from 2010, so it could not reflect on the outcome of decisions made since then. But it said three years of economic hardship over that time “do not bode well for the present or near future”.
On the “behaviors and risks” dimension of child well-being, there is good news across the board, UNICEF said.
“For instance: among 11-15 year-olds in the 29 countries under review, only eight percent said they smoke cigarettes at least once a week; just 15 percent reported having been drunk at least twice in their life; 99 percent of girls do not get pregnant whilst still a teenager.”
However, exercise levels are low, with the United States and Ireland the only countries in which more than 25 percent of children report exercising for at least an hour a day.
Report Card 11 also included the views of children on their own life satisfaction. These findings were broadly in line with the data-based measurement of child well-being.
“We need to know more about how children see and evaluate their own lives,” Alexander said.
Reporting by Paul Casciato; Editing by Mark Heinrich