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2.10 Britain and US: worst places for children

An UNESCO report places the UK an the US on the lowest places of al list of countries, looking to the well-being of children, and places the Netherlands on the top of the same list. 

As we know, UK and US are usually quite proud on their policy of 'protecting' children - against myths, as we saw in the articles here before - and usually have lots of critics on the policy of the Netherlands with its liberal climate, including sexual openness and education. Now, the Netherlands may be proud, and let the UK and the US think twice or more about their policy. 

Three articles here below give more details. 

(1) Britain stung at being worst place for children 

AFP & Turkishpress.com, 14 February 2007

The United Nations children's fund damned Britain and the United States as the worst places for children to live among wealthy nations, in a report which caused widespread soul-searching.

The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland topped the 21 industrial powers assessed for the child well-being report.

Britain's youngsters had the worst relationships with their family and peers, suffered more from poverty and indulged in more "binge drinking" and hazardous sex than children in other wealthy nations, said the report.

The United States placed 20 and Britain 21 on the list. 

[... UK government combats the report ...] 

Professor Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, Children's Commissioner for England, whose office was set up in 2004, said the British "must not continue to ignore the impact of our attitudes towards children..."

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children's Society, said that "despite being a rich country, the UK is failing children and young people in a number of crucial ways."

Britain came last in two of the main six areas studied by UNICEF: relationships, especially with their peers; and risky behaviour such as sex, drink and drugs.

The United States ranked second to last in both categories.


ranked 20 for children's own assessment of their happiness, 
finished at 18 for poverty and inequality, 
landed at 17 for education over the long-term and 
scored 12th for health and safety.

The United States ranked

17 for material well-being, 
12 for educational well-being, and 
21 for health and safety. 
American youngster's assessment of their well-being was not rated. 


UNICEF said child poverty -- defined as the percentage of children living in homes with equivalent incomes below 50 percent of the national median -- remains above the 15 percent mark in Britain, the United States and Ireland, as well as Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Almost a third of British youngsters aged 11, 13 and 15 reported being drunk on two or more occasions, against just an average of under 15 percent in the majority of OECD countries.


Britain's opposition Conservative party accused Gordon Brown, the finance minister who is expected to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister this year, of "failing" a generation of children.


(2) British children: poorer, at greater risk and more insecure

Sarah Boseley, The Guardian, February 14, 2007

Children growing up in the United Kingdom suffer greater deprivation, worse relationships with their parents and are exposed to more risks from alcohol, drugs and unsafe sex than those in any other wealthy country in the world, according to a study from the United Nations.

The UK is bottom of the league of 21 economically advanced countries according to a "report card"' put together by Unicef on the well-being of children and adolescents, trailing the United States which comes second to last.


Al Aynsley Green, the children's commissioner for England, acknowledges that the UN has accurately highlighted the troubled lives of children. 

"There is a crisis at the heart of our society and we must not continue to ignore the impact of our attitudes towards children and young people and the effect that this has on their wellbeing," he says in a response today.

"I hope this report will prompt us all to look beyond the statistics and to the underlying causes of our failure to nurture happy and healthy children in the UK. These children represent the future of our country and from the findings of this report they are in poor health, unable to maintain loving and successful relationships, feel unsafe and insecure, have low aspirations and put themselves at risk.

"It is time to stop demonising children and young people for what goes wrong and start supporting them to make positive choices. To bring an end to the confusing messages we give to young people about their role, responsibility and position in society and ensure that every child feels valued and has their rights respected." 

The Unicef team assessed the treatment of children in six different areas - material wellbeing; health and safety; educational well-being, family and peer relationships, behaviours and risks; and the young people's own perceptions of their well-being.

The Netherlands tops of the league, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Spain. The bottom five are Portugal, Austria, Hungary, the US and the UK.

Nine countries, all of them in northern Europe, have brought child poverty down below 10%, the report shows. But it remains at 15% in the three southern European countries - Portugal, Spain and Italy - and in the UK, Ireland and the US. Child poverty is a relative measure that shows how far their standard of living has fallen below the national average.

The Unicef report adds: 

"The evidence from many countries persistently shows that children who grow up in poverty are more vulnerable: specifically, they are more likely to be in poor health, to have learning and behavioural difficulties, to underachieve at school, to become pregnant at too early an age, to have lower skills and aspirations, to be low paid, unemployed and welfare-dependent."

The Conservatives seized on the report, claiming that it endorsed their attack on the way in which Gordon Brown had addressed the issue of child poverty, and the prime minister had demonised the role of children in his drive against antisocial behaviour.

The shadow chancellor, George Osborne, said: 

"This report tells the truth about Brown's Britain. After 10 years of his welfare and education policies, our children today have the lowest well-being in the developed world."

[... government says the report is outdated ...]

Some of the most shocking findings concern the relationships children and adolescents have with their family and peers. The UK is bottom of the 21 countries.

This, says Unicef, "is as difficult to measure as it is critical to well-being".

To attempt to score countries, the experts have focused on children's own reports of how much time their parents spend "just talking" to them, how many say they eat the main meal of the day with their parents more than once a week and the percentages of 11, 13 and 15-year-olds who find their peers "kind and helpful". UK parents do reasonably well on "talking regularly" - 60% of children say they chat, putting Britain 12th in the league table. But while a similar proportion say they eat together more than once a week, the UK lags towards the bottom of the league, with Italy, Iceland and France at the very top end.

The report presents a sad picture of relationships with friends, which are so important to children. Not much more than 40% of the UK's 11, 13 and 15-year-olds find their peers "kind and helpful", which is the worst score of all the developed countries.

The UK takes bottom place "by a considerable distance" for the number of young people who smoke, abuse drink and drugs, engage in risky sex and become pregnant at too early an age. For 16 out of 17 OECD countries with the data, between 15% and 28% of young people have had sex by the age of 15. For the UK, the figure is 40%.

On education, the UK comes 17th out of 21. At the age of 15, British children score relatively well on reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. But more than 30% of 15- to 19-year-olds are not in education or training and are not looking beyond low-skilled work. 

(3) Britain's children are unhappiest in the Western world

Alexandra Blair, timesonline.com, February 14, 2007

Britain's children are the unhappiest in the West, according to a Unicef study of 21 industrialised countries.

Not only do they drink the most, smoke more and have more sex than their peers, they rate their health as the poorest, dislike school more and are among the least satisfied with life. Their relative poverty, the lack of time spent eating meals with their parents and mistrust of classmates mean that Britain languishes at the bottom of the well-being league table. As a result, says Jonathan Bradshaw, one of the authors of Report Card 7: an Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries, Britain is a "picture of neglect".

The report, which is the first of its kind by the international children's organisation, was designed to show how countries compare internationally, rather than to explain the differences. But Professor Bradshaw, a leading authority on child poverty, believes that it is also in part a reflection of past failings. 

"Between 1979 and 1999, children were relatively neglected in Britain, child poverty rates rose rapidly, those living in workless households soared and the numbers not in education or training also rose," he said. "Since then, there's been a big increase in spending on health and childcare, which is making a difference, but we're having to reverse two decades of neglect." 

Among the most worrying findings, he said, was British children's own perception that they were among the worst-off. Asked to rate their health, almost a quarter of teenagers said that it was fair or poor, the worst in the countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. In addition, those aged 11 to 15 fell into the bottom six countries for enjoying school life and feeling satisfied with their lot.

The reason for this, according to Professor Bradshaw, lies in inequality. 

"The more unequal a society, the relatively deprived people will feel, and child poverty is still double the rate it was in 1979," he said.

Forty indicators of child well-being - including relative poverty, child safety, educational achievement, relationships with parents and drug misuse - are brought together in the Unicef study's overview to present a picture of the lives of children. Northern European countries dominate the top half of the table, with child wellbeing at its highest in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Britain and the US find themselves in the bottom of most rankings.

The report shows that there is no strong relationship between per capita GDP and child well-being. The Czech Republic, for example, achieves a higher overall rank for child well-being than several more wealthy European countries. 

Professor Bradshaw said that Britain could learn lessons, particularly in lowering teenage pregnancy rates. He cited the Netherlands, where sex education in schools is more open.

Children's charities described the report as a wake-up call. Professor Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, the Children's Commissioner for England, said he hoped that it would prompt Britain to look at the underlying causes of a failure to nurture happy, healthy children.

In 2004-05, the Government missed its target to reduce child poverty by a quarter from its 1998-99 levels. The aim is to halve child poverty figures by 2010 and abolish it by 2020.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said: 

"There are now 700,000 fewer children living in relative poverty than in 1998-99, and we have halved the number of children living in absolute poverty."

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