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More than a quarter of a billion children better off today than 20 years ago

Despite the widespread gains, war and conflict threaten progress
29 May 2019

At least 280 million children have a better chance to grow up healthy, educated and safe than at any time in the past two decades, a new report by Save the Children has found. However, the progress is being threatened by conflict, with a startling 80 percent rise in the number of people forced to flee their homes in the past 20 years. 

Launched today, Save the Children’s 2019 Global Childhood Report evaluates 176 countries on children’s access to health care, education, nutrition and protection from harmful practices like child labour and child marriage. 

In the year 2000, an estimated 970 million children were robbed of their childhoods due to ‘childhood enders’ – life-changing events like child marriage, early pregnancy, exclusion from education, sickness, malnutrition and violent deaths. That number today has been reduced to 690 million today.

Of the eight ‘childhood enders’ examined in the report, displacement due to conflict is the only one to get worse, increasing from 38 million people in 2000 to 68.5 million at the end of 2017, including more than 30 million children.

Save the Children Australia CEO Paul Ronalds said: “It’s promising to see so much progress in the past 20 years. It goes to show the impact aid – which has doubled globally since 2000 – is having around the world, in combination with political leadership, social investments and the success of the Millennium Development Goals.

“However, there are still more than 690 million children who have been robbed of a childhood because of conflict, because they were forced to marry too early, because they had to drop out of school and work to feed their families, because they couldn’t access health facilities. 

“With long-running wars in Yemen and Syria and a growing threat of conflict in many parts of the world, more people are displaced than at any point since the Second World War. In the past 20 years we’ve seen an additional 30 million people – including millions of children – flee their homes because of war. That’s greater than the entire population of Australia.

“This report shows we – governments, aid agencies, donors and other bodies – are making serious progress in reaching the most vulnerable children around the world. But above all, it reinforces the need for everyone to step up this work. Greater investment and more focus is needed if we are to see every child enjoy a safe, healthy and happy childhood.”

Launched ahead of International Children’s Day on June 1 in Save the Children’s Centenary year, the Global Childhood Report includes the annual End of Childhood Index, which finds that circumstances for children have improved in 173 out of 176 countries since 2000. This means today there are:

  • 4.4 million fewer child deaths per year 
  • 49 million fewer stunted children 
  • 130 million more children in school 
  • 94 million fewer child labourers 
  • 11 million fewer girls forced into marriage or married early

Australia sits 15th in the index, behind countries including Cyprus, Slovenia and Portugal, while Singapore tops the rankings as the country that best protects and provides for its children. Eight Western European countries and South Korea also ranking in the top 10. In the past 20 years Australia increased its score from 958 to 975 out of 1,000.

The most dramatic progress was among some of the world’s poorest countries, with Sierra Leone making the biggest improvements since 2000, followed by Rwanda, Ethiopia and Niger. The Central African Republic ranks last, with Niger – despite recent progress – and Chad rounding out the bottom three countries where childhoods are most threatened.

In relative terms, Niger improved most out of any country on the list, with its score more than doubling over two decades and with the rate of children dying before their fifth birthday plummeting by 62 percent. Niger still has a long way to go, but its sustained improvements over the years point to a brighter future for many of Niger’s children.

For media inquiries contact Evan Schuurman on 0406 117 937, Jess Brennan on 0421 334 918 or Licardo Prince on 0401 777 917.

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