• A new study uses United Nations data to measure how children’s rights are respected across the globe.
  • Iceland, Switzerland and Finland come top.
  • But worldwide, millions of children face extreme poverty due to COVID-19.

Of the myriad tragic effects of COVID-19, its impact on young people could prove to be one of its most damaging legacies.

The authors of a new report say the crisis has “turned back the clock” on years of progress made on kids’ well-being and put children’s rights under serious pressure across the globe.

The KidsRights Index 2020 measures how children’s rights are respected worldwide, and the extent to which countries are committed to improving them.

The data doesn’t directly include the impact of the pandemic, but the wider report, presented in the context of coronavirus, warns of the “disastrous” impact of the crisis on children.

The index finds the five best places to grow up healthy, well-educated and respected are all developed Western economies. But it does throw up some more surprising results too.

Best countries to be children
Iceland is at the top of the 2020 KidsRights Index.
Image: KidsRights

Children’s NGO KidsRights draws on data from UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to compile the annual report.

It groups 20 indicators into five areas: the right to life; the right to health; the right to education; the right to protection; and the enabling environment for child rights.

For 2020, Iceland tops the 182 nations listed, scoring well for its ‘child rights environment’, with legislation that enables child rights, a focus on the best interests of children and respect for their views. For education, it comes joint first with seven other nations,

Switzerland comes second, and top in the protection category, which looks at child labour, adolescent birth rate and birth registration. Finland – another of the joint-top nations for education – is third, while Sweden and Germany make up the top five.

Italy is highlighted for making significant progress in four of the five areas measured. It has climbed from 74th place in 2019 to 15th in 2020.

The five lowest-scoring countries are the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Chad.

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The kid's rights index.
Image: KidsRights

Thailand and Tunisia in top 20

But developed nations don’t exclusively perform better, according to KidsRights. This is because, rather than simply ranking the places where children have the best life, the index scores countries relative to their capacity to implement children’s rights.

So a host of industrialized nations, like the UK (169th), New Zealand (168th) and Australia (135th), sit quite far down the list, while some less developed countries including Thailand (8th) and Tunisia (17th) perform relatively well.

Looking at individual categories provides an interesting picture too. For example, in the life grouping – which considers criteria such mortality rate and life expectancy at birth – the top three consists of Japan, Italy and Singapore. In health, Portugal, Israel and South Korea top the table. And Thailand, Iceland and Tunisia are the top three for enabling child rights.

coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications - a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

Global underfunding

The KidsRights report warns that globally countries don’t allocate enough money to children’s rights, and that with governments focusing on healthcare and economies during the pandemic, the situation is unlikely to improve.

The impacts of the crisis are being felt in all areas of children’s lives, from health, development and behaviour, to education, economic security and protection from violence and abuse.

More than 1.5 billion children have been affected by school closures; boys and girls have been left more vulnerable to child labour, child marriage and teenage pregnancy; and disrupted vaccination programmes could lead to a big rise in infant mortality.

While children have not, so far, largely been affected by the direct health effects of COVID-19, the pandemic is having a “profound effect” on kids’ well-being, the United Nations says. An extra 42 to 66 million children are at risk of falling into extreme poverty.

As KidsRights founding chairman Marc Dullaert says: “Giving children the cold shoulder can be disastrous in the short, but more so in the long-term, for both the current and the future generation.”