Based on UN data, an annual study has measured how children’s rights are respected in 182 countries.
The UK is one of the worst countries in the world for respecting children’s rights, an international report has found.
Ranked at the top were Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, and Germany.
The lowest-scoring were the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and Chad.
The report was produced by the KidsRights Foundation, an international NGO that advocates for the wellbeing of vulnerable children across the world, in collaboration with the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) and the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in the Netherlands.
It is the 8th edition of the index and the only annual global ranking focused on how countries worldwide adhere to issues surrounding children’s rights.
Drawing upon data from UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the report uses measurements across five domains – life, health, education, protection and enabling a children’s rights environment – with a total of twenty indicators to generate a comprehensive overall ranking.
Derived from the CRC’s own guidelines, the index synthesises the performance records of countries on the most crucial aspects of children’s lives.
UK lags behind
It is the UK’s performance in the last of the five domains – enabling a children’s rights environment – that has led to its poor ranking.
The report pointed to the UK’s discriminatory treatment of certain groups of children, including Roma and gypsy children, ethnic minorities, the disabled, children in care, migrant, asylum-seeking and LGBTI children.
It concluded that British children’s views were not systematically heard in developing policy that directly impacts them.
The CRC last conducted a periodic review of the UK in 2016 and called for the repeal of compulsory collective worship in UK schools, a fully integrated education system in Northern Ireland, and statutory relationships and sex education.
Many of the CRC report’s recommendations are yet to be systematically tackled.
Meanwhile programmes like Prevent – the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy – has had a stigmatising impact on British Muslim children, who report feeling constantly surveilled, scrutinised and silenced.
“It is truly shocking that a wealthy, democratic country like the UK is performing so badly on children’s rights – especially when the reforms needed to turn things around are so obvious,” said Dr. Ruth Wareham, Education Campaigns Manager at Humanists UK.
The index is not an absolute ranking of nations where children have the best life. Instead, countries are assessed relative to their capacity to implement children’s rights.
It explains why developed countries didn’t exclusively fare better. For example, less developed countries like Thailand (8th) and Tunisia (17th) performed quite well.
Australia dropped from last year’s ranking of 19th to 135th due to its poor treatment of refugee and migrant children, as well as discrimination of Aboriginal children in health and education.
Italy made significant progress, moving up from 74th to 15th on the strength of its adoption of laws on cyberbullying and disability protections for children. However, it was criticised for smear campaigns against organisations that helped migrants.
The report warns that discrimination against children remains a global problem, with particular concern for the plight of girls. In 91 of the 182 countries surveyed, girls are discriminated against and do not enjoy the same rights as boys.
The pandemic’s impact
Although the study’s findings were conducted before the pandemic, it addressed the impact that the crisis will have on children worldwide in the report’s preface.
It points out how the measures taken by governments to curb the outbreak have led to school closures in 188 countries, affecting 1.5 billion children and leaving them extra vulnerable to child labour and child marriage.
The UN estimates that a further 42-66 million children could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis.
The report stated that the pandemic has “turned back the clock” on years of progress made on children’s wellbeing and put their rights under severe pressure.
Marc Dullaert, chairman of the KidRights Foundation, warned: “In this pandemic, children and youngsters seem to be forgotten as a high risk group. We envision that the setback for children’s rights will be enormous, not only in the short term but also in the long term.”
“We urge countries to safeguard the future of the next generation.”