The suspension of vaccination programmes, school closures and a surge in domestic violence during coronavirus lockdowns are likely to derail a decade’s worth of progress for children, according to new global research.
The Kidsrights Foundation on Tuesday published its annual rankings of children’s rights in 182 countries with Iceland scoring top for the second year running followed by Switzerland, Finland and Sweden.
The UK fared poorly, ranking in 169th place behind countries including Sudan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The country’s poor treatment of Roma and Gypsy children was criticised while the UK’s anti-terrorism strategy, Prevent, was found to have a stigmatising effect on Muslim children.
British children’s views were not systematically heard in developing policy that affects them, the report found. It also highlighted concerns around lack of legal aid while many children feel they are not listened to by social workers, paid carers, judges and other professionals working in family legal proceedings.
Chad has fallen behind Afghanistan to reach the bottom of the rankings while Sierra Leone has the third worst result.
The advocacy group’s chairman, Marc Dullaert, told the Guardian the pandemic would have a dire impact: “Our index shows that even before Covid-19, countries were not allocating sufficient budgets around the protection of child rights. Now we expect the economic consequences of the crisis to turn the clock back 10 years on the progress made around the wellbeing of children, unless governments take swift action.”
Countries are scored using UN data and evidence collected from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. They are assessed across five areas including health, education, and enabling an environment that promotes child rights.
“Overall, we see two big red flags in the findings this year,” said Dullaert. One is lack of government funding around children’s health, education and protection.
The other is around the discrimination of children with more than a third of countries having the lowest possible score in this area.
“We see in 91 of 182 countries that girls do not have the same rights as boys in terms of inheritance rights, access to education and equal treatment in legislation. It is not only in developing countries that there is a problem with discrimination.”
Italy ranked 15th in the index, up from 74, after being commended for adopting laws on cyberbullying and protecting children with disabilities. It was criticised for smear campaigns against organisations helping migrants.
The index is not an absolute ranking of countries where children have the best life but nations are scored relative to their capacity to implement children’s rights.
“Once we take this into account, surprising rankings might occur,” said Professor Karin Arts, of the International Institute of Social Studies, who was among those who compiled the data.
“Examples are the ultra-low scores of Australia (135), New Zealand (168) and the UK (169), and the high ranks of Thailand (8) and Tunisia (17),” she said.
Australia has dropped from 19 last year to 135 because of the poor treatment of refugee and migrant children, as well as Aboriginal young people who were found to be discriminated against in ways that affected their rights to education and health.
Dullaert said: “It is really sad to see that recent welfare reforms have pushed more children into poverty in a rich country like the UK. We are also concerned about children in detention who, because of the indirect impact of Covid-19, are effectively in solitary confinement and have nearly no contact with family or the outside world.”
The Kidsrights Foundation said the fallout from measures taken by governments to reduce the spread of Covid-19 would have lasting effects on children globally.
School closures in 188 countries affect 1.5 billion children, leaving them vulnerable to child labour, child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
“Millions of children were out of school for a long period and we see especially in developing countries that, even after the easing of lockdown, there is an enormous drop-off rate, with large numbers of children failing to return to school again,” said Dullaert. “As with the Ebola crisis, this will result in more children being put into work and early marriages for girls.”