Unicef report: New Zealand 34th out of 41 developed countries for child wellbeing

New Zealand performs poorly on measures of child health and wellbeing relative to other developed countries.
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New Zealand performs poorly on measures of child health and wellbeing relative to other developed countries.

The wellbeing of New Zealand's children places us 34th out of 41 developed countries, according to a report released by Unicef on Thursday.

The report tracks the progress on goals such as reducing child poverty, inequality and deprivation and improving things like education and health for children.

The 34th placing puts us behind Greece, Hungary and Lithuania - but ahead of the United States, Israel and Turkey.

Unicef said New Zealand's presence in the bottom end of the rankings is proof that "high national income is no guarantee of a good record in sustaining child wellbeing."

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Here are some of the areas that New Zealand fares worst.

Health and wellbeing

New Zealand ranks 38th ahead of only Bulgaria and Chile, while Mexico was not ranked.

This ranking reflects performance in neonatal mortality, suicide, mental health, drunkenness and teen pregnancy.

New Zealand has the highest rate of adolescent suicide of any country in the report. The report used figures from 2010 of 15.6 suicides per 100,000 people - about two and a half times the average of 6.1.

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The most recent figures for New Zealand are slightly up on 2010, with 16 suicides per 100,000 in 2016. The rate is so high that it brings the that it brings the entire global average up by 0.26 deaths per 100,000.

New Zealand's neonatal mortality rate is slightly higher than average while our teen pregnancy rate places us sixth behind Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Chile and Mexico. Rates of teenage pregnancy have been falling in New Zealand and all other developed nations in the past decade.

Obesity

New Zealand has a very high rate of childhood obesity, with 32 per cent of 2-14-year-olds overweight or obese. However, as New Zealand only reports obesity rates for 11-14-year-olds no direct comparison was possible with other countries.

"New Zealand is clearly capable of reporting against Innocenti's [the authors] measures for child obesity, but Innocenti calls specifically for the rates of 11-15 year olds, while New Zealand's rates are for 2-14 year olds," Unicef said.

"Innocenti's League Table gives a global average of just 15.2 per cent for children aged 11-15, and the worst rates – Malta (27.4 per cent) Canada (25.05 per cent) and Greece (20.93 per cent) – are nowhere near as high as New Zealand's for 2-14 year olds."

Economic growth and work

Another area where New Zealand performed poorly with a ranking of 34, owing to the 16 per cent of children living in jobless households, only Hungary and Ireland fare worse.

 

Hunger

About 11 per cent of Kiwi children under 15 live in a home with food insecurity, slightly lower than the overall average of 12.7 per cent.

Reducing inequality

New Zealand is ranked 26th in this goal, just behind Latvia, Slovakia and Poland and ahead of Portugal, Spain and Estonia.

The share of income that goes to the top 10 per cent of households with children is nearly 20 per cent higher than the share of income in the bottom 40 per cent. 

This inequality flows into our education system where socio-economic advantage has a big impact on performance in reading, maths and science. This effect was only stronger in five countries countries.

 

Poverty

New Zealand was not ranked against the goal of ending poverty as it only provided data in one of three indicators used in the report.

That was relative income poverty, with 19.8 per cent of Kiwi children living in a household household with an income lower the 60 per cent of the median. Slightly better than the average of 21 per cent.

However, the report's authors were critical of New Zealand's measurement of poverty.

Saying, "multidimensional poverty" should be measured as the per cent of children being deprived of only two or more material indicators, while the New Zealand Government now defines it as being deprived of seven. 

"New Zealand is clearly capable of reporting against Innocenti's measures for multidimensional poverty, but hasn't, and has instead broadened the definitive lines of measurement for multidimensional poverty when reporting internally to New Zealand audiences."

Promote peace, justice and strong institutions

This ranking comes from rates of child homicide and bullying. New Zealand did not report a rate for bullying but our high rate of child homicide was enough to see us ranked 33rd on this goal. 

With 0.78 child homicides per 100,000 children in 2010, New Zealand was seventh highest in the report, Mexico (5.98) and the United States (2.66) had the highest rates of child homicide.

 

There are some areas that New Zealand performed above average, including education, low air pollution and gender equality.

Ensure quality education

New Zealand is ranked 15th on this goal with an above average 71.9 per cent of 15 year olds achieving baseline competency in reading, maths and science.

However that figure, which is for 2015, has fallen from almost 80 per cent in 2006.

Clean air

New Zealand's air pollution levels are well below the average for urban areas. Only eight countries had cleaner air in urban areas than New Zealand, including Australia and several Nordic countries.

Gender equality

About 7.4 per cent of adult New Zealand males and 3.7 per cent of adult females agree with the statement "university education is more important for a boy that for a girl."

While still significant, the figure is below the report average of 13.9 per cent.

The Netherlands, Australia and Sweden had lower rates than New Zealand. While Turkey was the worst developed country with about one in three adults agreeing with the statement. 

POLITICIANS RESPOND

Labour deputy leader and spokesperson for children's issues Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand should be setting goals and reporting on progress when it came to child health and wellbeing.

New Zealand needed to lift its game, she said. The government had dismissed setting measures in the child poverty space in the past, saying it wanted to focus on getting on with fixing the problem rather than reporting on goals. "But they're not doing that either," Ardern said.

New Zealand should be striving to be "world-leading" when it came to child wellbeing. "This is an area where we need to be aspirational."

The report showed relative to developed, comparable countries, New Zealand was doing poorly. And in some cases, it wasn't reporting on some of the measures at all.

Ardern said the report was "astounding but not surprising", adding that she hoped the government would not dismiss the findings, as it had done with past reports.

Acting Minister for Children Amy Adams highlighted several Government initiatives, including some announced in the May 2017 Budget as evidence that Government was doing enough to lift the wellbeing of Kiwi children.

"This Government is taking a number of steps to support children and young people, especially our most vulnerable, so they can lead healthy, safe and successful lives.

"This includes Budget 2017's $2 billion per year Family Incomes Package, which will lift families' incomes by an average of $26 a week. It's expected to lift 20,000 families above the threshold for severe housing stress and reduce the number of children living in families receiving less than half the median income by around 50,000.

"This year's Budget also invests $28.1 million to help expand Family Start, an intensive home visiting programme, that allows us to intervene early and target support to families whose children are at risk of poor education, health and social outcomes.

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