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UNICEF: UK, US Lowest Among Wealthy Nations for Child Well-Being

A new study by the U.N. Children's Fund that ranks the well being of children in 21 of the world's richest countries gives highest marks to the Netherlands, followed by Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The UNICEF study puts Britain and the United States last in the developed world. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA in Geneva that UNICEF calls this the first comprehensive study of childhood across the world's industrialized nations.

The study looks at six areas to measure the well being of children. These include education, poverty, health and safety, peer and family relationships, behaviors and risks and how young people rate their own sense of well-being.

Britain and the United States get failing grades in five of the six categories, whereas top-ranked Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries receive high scores in practically all these measures.

The director of UNICEF's Innocenti Research Center, Marta Santos Pais, says these measurements indicate each country's strengths and weaknesses. She says all countries have room for improvement.

"If we look at the countries that score better, it is clear that they are usually small populations and countries where there has been quite a strong investment in social benefits and family support by the state," she said. "And, where there has also been a very high priority given to investing in those families that belong to the most vulnerable groups in society. And, in addition, investing in the families that have children of a young age."

Pais says the combination of these interventions makes a difference in bringing countries up in the rankings. She tells VOA that poverty and marginalization are not always the biggest problems affecting children.

She says children in the study say that other things are more important to them than material well being.

"What we hear from children is that it is much more important for them the time, the attention, the support by families and friends than the income that comes to the family that allows them to have a number of goods within the house, such as a computer or books or a table," she said. "For them, the affection, the support, the time, the trust scores higher."

Pais says it is important to pay more attention to children. She says children must be given the affection, the support and the skills to develop their full potential so they can contribute to the development of their own society.

The report aknowledges deficiencies in its methodology by stating "the available data may be less than ideal and that there are prominent gaps." But UNICEF urges governments to use its study as a guide on how they can improve the welfare of their children.