Must Do Better: New Zealand's Disappointing Report Card Results
OPINION: As New Zealanders, we pride ourselves on being among the world's best at lots of things: Rugby. Airlines. Scenery. Seafood.
If only we were as good at children.
But we're not.
That's the sobering finding of UNICEF's Innocenti Report Card for 2016, a global survey measuring how well New Zealand cares for its children, compared with 41 other OECD/EU nations.
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New Zealand was 34th. Back of the pack. Failing.
The Innocenti report measures how well countries perform on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, a UN target that New Zealand, along with every other country in the report, signed up to. This report focuses on the goals relating to how well we care for our children.
While there were certainly some bright spots, and lots of improvements, the report shows huge areas of concern. In Good Health and Wellbeing - which measures things like teen pregnancy, youth suicide, newborn deaths, and mental health symptoms - New Zealand was 38th, in front of just Bulgaria and Chile.
It's often said New Zealand is a great place to raise children. But is it a great place to grow up in? Sadly, Innocenti's Report Card suggests that for many children, it is definitely not.
You'd probably expect high-income nations to perform better for their children, and it's true that for some children, living in a place like New Zealand provides opportunities that children in poorer countries only dream about. But surely the greatest thing about New Zealand having a high-income is the capability to ensure these opportunities exist for all children in our nation.
When the economic well-being of our nation doesn't reflect the well-being of every child, it shows a picture of an economy that's been drawn just for today. We need to wake up and look at the longer term.
Our level of income poverty is roughly average (1 in 5) but our adolescent suicide rate (15.6 per 100,000) is the highest on the table. More New Zealand youth are killing themselves than any other country in the report - 15.6 children out of every 100,000. That's more than five times that of the UK (3.0) and nine times more than Portugal's rate (1.7).
New Zealand's child-homicide rate is 7th highest and our proportion of children living in jobless households is almost twice as high as the report average.
These are not good things to be leading the world in.
Perhaps saddest of all the data shown by the report card is the data not shown, because we don't provide it. When it comes to "multi-dimensional poverty" (or what the Ministry of Social Development calls "material hardship") New Zealand has no data. Neither does it have data on how many children are lifted out of poverty through welfare; on gender inequality; on women reporting experiences of physical violence as children; on child obesity; on adolescent mental health; on experiences of drunkenness; and experiences of bullying.
We don't know these things, but they are all things that any high-income nation has the means to measure. And measuring a problem is an indication of how much attention is being paid to that problem.
Given our government's adoption of a "social investment" approach, you'd think that collecting that information would be a high priority for our leaders to pay attention to.
What is "social investment" if it doesn't pay attention to all those things that indicate well-being for our children?
And what good is the current economic well-being of our high-income nation, if it doesn't reflect universal well-being for every child? It is a short term view of economy that loses sight of the future benefits that equal opportunity affords.
As a small, high-income nation, New Zealand can introduce measures that lift every child out of poverty. That is, if we really want to.
There are many areas we're not doing well. Obesity. Poverty and material hardship. Infant mortality. Opportunity. But it's youth suicide where we draw the blackest mark.
We have the opportunity to change that.
And become known as a nation where the lives of our young people are celebrated, not mourned.
Dr Prudence Stone is UNICEF NZ's National Advocacy Manager
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