More than half the world’s children are at risk of poverty, conflict and discrimination against girls, according to a global report by the charity Save the Children.
The organization’s second End of Childhood Index says 1 billion children live in countries rife with poverty, about 240 million in countries affected by conflict, and 575 million girls live in countries where discrimination against women is common.
While the global situation has improved compared with last year, the charity says progress is not fast enough.
Progress too slow
“While we’re seeing some progress in many countries, when it comes to childhood-disrupting events like early marriage, exclusion from education and poor health, progress is not happening quickly enough for the world’s most vulnerable children. Save the Children is committed to making sure every last child has the childhood — and the future — they deserve,” said Carolyn Miles, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the agency.
The survey said the situation for children has improved in 95 of 175 countries surveyed, but deteriorated in about 40 nations.
Singapore and Slovenia are at the top of the childhood index rankings, followed by Norway, Sweden and Finland, who round out the top five.
Save the Children also points out that despite their dominance in economics and military might, the U.S. (36), Russia (37) and China (40) all trail countries in Western Europe.
A look at West Africa
At the bottom of the index is Niger, along with Mali and the Central African Republic, with eight of the bottom 10 nations in West or Central Africa.
Some sub-Saharan countries were ranked among or near the top 100 nations when rated on a number of issues affecting young people, including child health, education, labor, early marriage and child birth, and violence.
Among the highest rated African countries in the survey are Mauritius (54), Cape Verde (90), Botswana (102) and South Africa (111).
Save the Children’s 2018 End of Childhood Index rankings showed that slightly more than half of the 49 sub-Saharan nations surveyed had made improvements over the past year registering children in school, and in child nutrition and health care. Among the countries in this group are Uganda (130), Somalia (170), Sierra Leone (167), Niger (175) and Mali (174).
However, even with modest improvements, many still linger at the bottom of the global list in terms of childhood well-being.
Almost all of the worst-performing states suffer from three factors that harm children: poverty, conflict and discrimination against girls. Among the nations most affected by this triple threat are Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic, Mali and Niger.
South Sudan is rated the fifth-worst performing country out of the 175 nations surveyed, with the highest rate of children out of school in the world (67 percent), the second-highest rate of displacement globally (31 percent displaced), and also among the top nations with the highest rates of child marriage (40 percent).
Eric Hazard, Save the Children’s advocacy director for West and Central Africa, described the situation in Nigeria, which is a large and economically powerful country whose fight against Boko Haram terrorists has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the north of the country.
“In the north of Nigeria, there is a huge and direct impact on ensuring children get access to basic rights. For example, if you take the state of Borno, which is affected by the conflict, there are more than 1,400 schools which have been destroyed, close to 60 percent of the schools are closed,” Hazard said. “That means access to education as a fundamental right for children is at risk today in a couple of northern states in Nigeria.”
Discrimination against girls
Hazard says another factor affecting young people in the north is discrimination against girls, many of whom marry at an early age and stay home to raise a family rather than attend school. He notes that Nigeria has one of the highest rate of child marriage in the world.
“Child marriage is accepted and the norm in northern states,” he said. “Overall in all in Nigeria, 4 out of 10 girls are married before the age of 18 … and if you look at northern states, you can have 6 out of 10 girls married before 18.”
The effects of early marriage show up in population growth. Save the Children says globally, given that child marriage rates are not falling much, the number of adolescent pregnancies is set to grow, with the largest increases expected in Africa.
The group says without urgent action, the world will not meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are set to ensure by 2030 every child survives, learns and is protected.
Many economists describe Africa’s burgeoning rate of growth as a “demographic dividend” for prosperity. But child health advocates warn that without improved investment in education and health, the dividend could become a curse.