Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Canada 12th out of 21 on kids being worse off ...

UN says British, U.S. kids worst off in industrial world; Canada 12th out of 21

British and American children are among the worst off in the industrialized world, according to a UN report Wednesday that ranked the well-being of youngsters in 21 wealthy countries.

The study also suggested Canada has a lot of room for improvement, ranking just 12th on the list in a tie with Greece, a much poorer country. The Netherlands and Sweden rated first and second. Canada did better in some individual categories that made up the overall rankings, including second in education and sixth for material well-being.

However, it ranked much worse in others such as young people's subjective sense of well-being (15th), behaviours and risks (17th) and peer and family relationships (18th). It was 13th in health and safety.

Lisa Wolff, UNICEF Canada's director of advocacy and education, noted that 13.6 per cent of Canadian households have an income that is less than 50 per cent of the median.

UNICEF believes that should be reduced to 10 per cent, as nine other advanced countries have done, Wolff said.

"What disturbs me is that the relative poverty rate hasn't budged for many years," she said.

Britain and the United States came in 20th and 21st overall respectively, with both countries falling in the bottom third of five of the six categories measured.

Among the report's overall findings was that wealth alone did not guarantee a high ranking, with countries that lagged in income sometimes scoring ahead of richer ones.

"The Czech Republic, for example, achieves a higher overall rank for child well-being than several much wealthier countries including France, Austria, the United States and the United Kingdom," the report said.

The United States was last among the 21 countries for health and safety, measured by rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, immunization, and deaths from accidents and injuries.

Britain was last in the family and peer relationships ranking, which measured such things as the rate of single-parent families and whether families ate the main meal of the day together more than once a week.

Britain also finished at the bottom in behaviours and risks, which considered factors such as the percentage of children who ate breakfast, consumed fruit regularly, were overweight, used drugs or alcohol or were sexually active.

The U.S. was second last in both the family and peer, and the behaviours and risks categories.

The British government immediately criticized the report, saying it used data that was out of date.

"In many cases the data used is several years old and does not reflect more recent improvements such as the continuing fall in the teenage pregnancy rate or in the proportion of children living in workless households," said a spokeswoman for Department for Education and Skills, on customary condition of anonymity.

She said reforms introduced to tackle "teenage smoking, drinking, and risky sexual behaviour . . . are delivering improvements that are making real differences to children's lives."

But opposition MP Annette Brooke of the Liberal Democrats said the report reflected a "shameful level of child poverty" in Britain.

"It is shocking that we are doing so badly at bringing up our children," Brooke said. "Every child should be entitled to live in a stable, loving family environment."

The Netherlands topped the combined list, placing in the top 10 for all six categories studied.

In general, European countries dominated the upper half of the table, with northern European countries - the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland - claiming the top four places.

While northern countries tended to rank higher in the report, southern European countries such as Spain and Portugal ranked higher in terms of family support and levels of trust with friends and peers.

Spain came in fifth, Germany 11th and France 16th.

Marta Santos Pais, the study's director, said future reports would devote even more energy to assessing how children perceive their own well-being and needs.

"Very often we base our assessment and governments shape their policies on the basis of what adults feel the policy measures are achieving," she said. "It's always important to see how the beneficiaries of those policies are assessing the impact of the policies."