New Zealand 32th in Global Rankings for Children Surviving and Thriving
While New Zealand tops global rankings for natural beauty, an absence of corruption and business competitiveness, it ranked only 32th for “flourishing children” according to a just-published report from the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission, “A future for the world’s children?”
The commission – made up of more than 40 child and adolescent health experts convened by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and The Lancet – found that none of the 180 countries surveyed are adequately protecting the futures of their children.
“Countries need to overhaul their approach to child and adolescent health, to ensure that we not only look after our children today but protect the world they will inherit in the future,” said Helen Clark, co-chair of the commission in her capacity as patron of the Helen Clark Foundation. She is a former three-term Prime Minister of New Zealand and served for two terms as Administrator of the United Nations Development Program.
The flourishing index ranks countries on whether their children are surviving and thriving – and thus, flourishing, based on an average of the surviving and thriving scores.
New Zealand is bettered in the flourishing index by (from #1) Norway, South Korea, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Denmark, Japan, Belgium, Luxembourg, Singapore, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Austria, Australia, Canada, Portugal, Cyprus, Slovenia, Italy, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Greece. USA is ranked 39th and China 43rd. The Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia, Niger and Mali rank in the bottom five.
Wealthy countries such as the United States, Australia, Luxembourg, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates rank in the bottom 10 countries for providing children and adolescents a healthy, sustainable future, according to the report.
The report researchers asked children aged 6–18 years to describe what made them feel happy and healthy. In all settings, children cited key themes, such as family togetherness, safety from violence, clean environments, and access to culture and education, as most important for their happiness.
In their discussions with indigenous Māori communities from rural New Zealand about health and wellbeing, children offered, children offered “[being healthy is] playing with my whānau [extended family] and my mum and dad.” Children were very sensitive to their environments (a “warm dry house” in New Zealand). Children and youth often mentioned the desire to participate in cleaning up their local environments (“cleaning up the beach” – New Zealand). Indigenous children from New Zealand also emphasised their connection to their culture (“Te Ao Māori”—the Maori world) and the importance of speaking their language and learning about traditions of song and storytelling. “It feels special when you’re Māori,” said one child.
With respect to New Zealand, the report noted that “the already substantial proportion of single parent families is expected to continue to rise, to up to 27-40% of households in the USA, Australia, Austria, Japan, and New Zealand by 2025–30.” The report also recorded that “In New Zealand, 88% of unhealthy food advertisements were shown during children’s peak viewing times, in contravention of a number of self-regulation agreements by industry.”
The Lancet report identified New Zealand as one of “a handful of countries [that] have developed over-arching policies backed by national programmes dedicated to child wellbeing, but policies in most countries are not cohesive and do not have sufficient political force.” It noted that New Zealand has “introduced a budgeting approach in which cost-benefit analyses are based on current and future wellbeing.”
The report’s sustainability list ranks countries based on excess carbon emissions compared with 2030 global warming-related targets. Low-income countries Burundi, Chad, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic rank at the top. Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain are at the bottom of the list. New Zealand had a sustainability ranking of 147 out of 180 countries surveyed, with 7.65 metric tons of CO2 per capita (down from 7.69 metric tons in 2014), equating to a 181% excess of CO2 emissions relative to 2031 targets.
Some high-income countries’ per-capita carbon emissions are more than 210% higher than the sustainability target for 2030, the commission found. Because of this, while many of these countries rank near the top of the report’s flourishing index, they rank closer to the bottom on the sustainability index. The opposite is true for many low-income countries.
“While some of the poorest countries have among the lowest (carbon dioxide) emissions, many are exposed to the harshest impacts of a rapidly changing climate,” said Minister Awa Coll-Seck of Senegal, co-chairperson of the commission. “Promoting better conditions today for children to survive and thrive nationally does not have to come at the cost of eroding children’s futures globally.”
Original report for US News & World Report by Elliott Davis, graduate of University of Maryland’s Merrill College of Journalism.