Child poverty rate high, says UNICEF

THE VAST majority of children living in Slovakia are happy with their life situation, despite the fact that almost one fifth of them live on the verge of poverty, and thus lack some of the things that their peers consider to be “normal”, such as a pair of shoes that fit or a birthday celebration.

THE VAST majority of children living in Slovakia are happy with their life situation, despite the fact that almost one fifth of them live on the verge of poverty, and thus lack some of the things that their peers consider to be “normal”, such as a pair of shoes that fit or a birthday celebration.

The latest edition of the Child Well-Being in Rich Countries comparative study by UNICEF, presented on the International Day of Children, June 1, 2013, provides an overview of the well-being of children in 29 of the world’s advanced economies, including Slovakia. The researchers assessed five areas of children’s life: health and safety, education, behaviour and risk, material well-being, and housing and environment. Additionally, children were asked to assess their own well-being and their satisfaction with their lives.

Slovakia placed in the bottom third of the ranking of countries, tied with Estonia at 23, in terms of overall child well-being, according to the research results. The chart is topped by the Netherlands, followed by the Nordic countries and Germany. The bottom rankings are occupied mainly by countries in central and eastern Europe, but also Italy (22) and the USA (26).

Money = well-being?

The Netherlands is the only country to rank among the top five countries in all areas of child well-being, and is also the clear leader in evaluations of child well-being by children themselves, with 95 percent of its children rating their own lives above the midpoint of the Life Satisfaction Scale, compared to 80 percent in Slovakia.

The authors of the report note that there is no simple link between a country’s GDP per capita and the well-being of its children. This is proven by the fact that the USA, one of the wealthiest countries in the ranking, placed among the bottom four along with some of the chart’s poorest countries, like Lithuania, Latvia and Romania.

“There are signs that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are beginning to close the gap with the more established industrial economies,” the report reads.

Poverty among children

Slovakia, however, still faces several serious problems regarding child well-being, with still relatively high child poverty rates being chief among them. In Slovakia the Child Deprivation Rate, one of the UNICEF indicators of poverty, stands at 19 percent. That means that every fifth child in Slovakia lacks two or more of the 14 items that are regarded as common, like having three meals a day, daily fresh fruit and vegetables, regular leisure activities, properly fitting shoes, money to participate in school trips and events and an internet connection.

Additionally, the most recent EU SILC research indicating poverty in the country has shown that in 2011 about 18.8 percent of children under 18 lived at risk of poverty in Slovakia. For instance, many of the children in this category live in a family composed of one adult and one child with a net income of €409.50, or a family of two adults and three children with a net income of €756.

“Children are threatened by poverty much more than adults,” sociologist Zuzana Kusá, the head of the Slovak Network against Poverty at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, said, adding that the current economic crisis is making the situation for Slovak children even more dire.

Infant mortality still an issue

In the area of health, Slovakia still ranks among countries with the highest infant mortality rates, with six out of 1,000 children not surviving until their first birthday, which is twice the rate in the neighbouring Czech Republic. Also, only Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and the United States have infant mortality rates higher than six per 1,000 births.

“On the other hand, children in Slovakia belong among the best protected from serious diseases, such as measles, polio and DPT3,” UNICEF Slovakia wrote on its website. The research shows that 98 percent of children aged 12-23 months have been immunised against these illnesses, which is the third highest rate after Greece and Hungary, with 99 percent. Three of the richest countries in the OECD, Austria, Canada and Denmark, are the only countries in which the immunisation rate falls below 90 percent, according to UNICEF.

Risky behaviour

The comparative analysis shows that Slovak children behave in slightly less riskier ways than their peers in neighbouring countries.

They are also more active in regular physical activities, and about one quarter of all Slovak children exercise at least one hour per day (compared to 8 percent in Italy), according to UNICEF. As a result, the child obesity rate currently stands at 13 percent, which is slightly lower than in other countries of the Visegrad Group. The comparison is similar with smoking (one in 10 children aged 11-15 smoke on a daily basis), cannabis (13 percent of 11-15 year olds claim to have tried it in the last 12 months) and alcohol consumption (17 percent of children in the same age group have been drunk at least twice in their life). Interestingly, the latter figure is almost three times higher than that of the USA.

Slovakia, on the other hand, has one of the highest teenage birth rates, with 18 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-18, after Estonia, the UK, Romania and the USA, which tops the list with more than 35 births per 1,000 girls. Countries with the lowest teenage birth rates - Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Slovenia - recorded fewer than 5 births per 1,000 teenage girls.

Children: happy with their lives

In an attempt to paint a complete picture of child well-being in world’s most advanced countries, UNICEF also looked at what children have to say about their lives and their level of satisfaction.

Over 85 percent of children in the monitored countries have a high level of overall life satisfaction, the research shows. Slovakia meets the average, with 83 percent of its children being happy with their lives, and places 25th, in the bottom third of the ranking, along with Canada, Germany and the US, as well as neighbouring Poland and Hungary.

The high rate of overall life satisfaction proves that it is not money and material welfare, but rather the quality of close relationships in the child’s life that plays a key role, the report’s authors concluded.

“From the earliest years, the child’s sense of subjective well-being is intimately bound up with relationships, and particularly with parents and peers,” the report reads.

In Slovakia, 79 percent of children say their relationships with their mothers are trouble-free, but some 39 percent claim they find it difficult to talk to their fathers.

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