New Zealand has one of the highest rates of children not in any form of education, training or employment in the developed world, and scored relatively poorly in other measures of child wellbeing in a UNICEF report, released today.
Report Card 11, which looks at the state of children in the world's most advanced economies, found there did not appear to be a strong relationship between a country's GDP and overall child wellbeing, and New Zealand fell behind poorer nations in many of the measures.
The country at the top of the overall table for child wellbeing was the Netherlands, with Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland placed next. Romania was at the bottom of the table.
New Zealand did not feature in the overall rankings table due to a lack of data.
UNICEF New Zealand national strategic manager Barbara Lambourn said the report showed there was much progress yet to be made on the wellbeing of our youngest citizens. "A country's GDP is not strongly related to children's wellbeing. A government's choice to have policies which enhance and support child wellbeing is much more significant."
In New Zealand, there is some positive news around the improvement of child immunisation rates, with 92 per cent of children now fully immunised, up from 78 per cent in 2007.
In addition, New Zealand children up to the age of 15 performed well in reading, maths, science and literacy, ranking 4th out of 33 countries.
Immunisation Advisory Centre director Nikki Turner credited the improvement in immunisation rates to the commitment of all levels of government and the setting of national targets.
"However, we know from our own data that much more needs to be done to ensure Maori and Pasifika children benefit from this increased priority for children. Similarly, in terms of education we are concerned about Maori and Pasifika children being left behind in a growing tail of educational under-achievement."
Child welfare organisation Every Child Counts said the report highlighted that when governments chose to prioritise children and ensure that public policy met their needs, child wellbeing was significantly improved.
"The Netherlands sits at the top of the OECD for child wellbeing, with Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland just behind. Every Child Counts' research has found that an underlying factor enabling children to thrive in the Netherlands is the social and political consensus that parenting and children are important. That consensus translates into policy and practice that effectively support families," manager Deborah Morris-Travers said.
"The data released today shows that when governments set targets and invest in meeting them, significant progress can be made to improve child health and wellbeing. The improvements in New Zealand's immunisation rates are a good demonstration of this."
Ms Morris-Travers said New Zealand's failure to adequately monitor and measure child wellbeing - resulting in being excluded from some of the league tables - signalled that children's needs were not yet afforded the priority and investment required to ensure that every child thrives.
How New Zealand compared to the world's other rich countries:
- Ranked 32 out of 34 countries for young people who are not in any form of education, training or employment, above only Bulgaria and Spain.
- Ranked 21 out of 35 countries for levels of child poverty, above Italy and Canada but below the UK and Australia.
- Ranked 25 out of 34 countries for young people (aged 15-19 years) who are participating in higher education, ahead of Australia and the UK but below Spain and Greece.
- Ranked 24 out of 35 countries for general homicide (deaths per 100,000) which has an impact on children's safety and development. Australia, the UK and most European countries have fewer homicides per 100,000 than New Zealand.
- Ranked 31 out of 35 countries for teenage fertility rates
- Ranked 25 out of 35 countries for child health and safety (includes infant mortality and low birth weight, national immunisation levels and death rate of children and young people).