Canada ranks 17th out of 29 on UNICEF’s child well-being index

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Shine On

Those looking to raise children in the place that will maximize their overall well-being – at least according to UNICEF – will have to start practicing their Dutch.

The United Nations Children’s Fund released their latest Child Well-Being Index, a report that ranks which countries provide the optimal conditions for children, and the Netherlands took the top spot.

Canada, on the other hand, ranked 17th out of 29 “rich” countries, coming in below Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Portugal and the U.K.

Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland continue to dominate the highest standings.

UNICEF used data compiled between 2009-2010 to grade how well children fare in categories like education, health and safety, material well-being, housing and environment and behaviours and risk.

Our highest ranking came from housing and environment, where Canada ranked 11.

Our poorest showing? Health and safety, where Canada nearly scraped bottom in the 27th spot.

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Additional categories placed us firmly in the middle: Education (14th out of 29), material well-being (15th out of 29) and behaviours and Risks (16th out of 29).

Canadian children also report themselves to be among the unhappiest in the developed world, placing 24 out of 29 according to their own views of life satisfaction.

The last UNICEF child well-being index came out in 2007 and these latest results show that Canada has not moved far off the mark since our last mediocre performance.

UNICEF Canada president David Morley tells CBC he’s disheartened by the results.

"As a Canadian, I'm ashamed," he says. "[We’re] stuck in the middle of the pack against other wealthy countries, and that's just not good enough."

So what contributed to our less-than-stellar showing? For starters, the infant mortality rate in Canada continues to figure among the poorest among its peers with five deaths per 1,000 babies.

Child poverty continues to be a major issue, with Canada coming in 25th out of 29.

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We’re also third from the bottom when it comes to childhood obesity, with one in five children ages 11, 13 and 15 considered overweight based on body mass index.

Though fewer school-aged children are picking up cigarettes these days, the same can’t be said for cannabis. Canada came in dead last when it comes to toking teens, with 28 per cent copping to a little recreational mary jane use last year.

Considering all the horrible news coming out of schools these days, it’s not surprising that nearly 35 per cent of children complained about being bullied, placing Canada near the bottom of the pack at 21st out of 29 countries.

But it wasn’t all dismal: We pulled in high marks when it comes to eating fruit and exercising (two results which seem at odds with our obesity levels).

However, UNICEF says that’s still not good enough.

“That Canada can do better is evident in the contrast to similar nations, many of whom have fewer economic resources and fell deeper into recession," reads the summary in UNICEF Canada’s official response to the rankings.

"The well-being of children is a shared responsibility among families, communities and public institutions, but all of the well-being indicators in the Report Card are influenced by policy choices."

As a way to foster change, the summary continues, we must first address child poverty. There’s no good reason 15.1 per cent of children live below the poverty line in such a resource-rich nation.

Tackling this issue will have a trickle-down effect on improving family and peer relationships, decreasing risky behaviour and boosting up health and education.

We also need to keep a closer eye on our kids, the summary notes. And not just on the homefront: it’s up to the government to put more emphasis on improving the general well-being of our youngest demographic and to make sure their access to a good, safe and healthy life doesn’t slip through the cracks.