UNICEF Reports 2008

Drowning, other accidents kill 800,000 kids a year


December 11 2008

HANOI, Vietnam

Simple things like seat belts, childproof medicine caps and fences around pools could help prevent half of the 2,000 child deaths worldwide that occur every day because of accidents, UN officials said Wednesday.

More than 800,000 children die each year from burns, drowning, car crashes, falls, poisoning and other accidents, with the vast majority of those deaths occurring in developing countries, according to experts and a report released Wednesday by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Tens of millions more suffer injuries that often leave them disabled for life, said the report which was launched at a meeting of global health experts in Hanoi. The World Report on Child Injury Prevention 2008 does not include injuries caused by domestic violence.

The problem is most acute in Africa and Southeast Asia, but no country is immune, conference participants said, issuing an urgent call for action.

“The price of failure is high,” said Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization, speaking in a videotape shown at the conference. “On current estimates, unintentional injuries claim the lives of around 830,000 children worldwide every year.”

Many parents in developing countries share the double burden of childcare and work, making it difficult for them to watch their children all the time.

In Vietnam, about 10 kids drown a day, and drowning is the leading cause of injury-related deaths for children over one year of age.

Basket weaver Nguyen Thi Chung’s 2-year-old daughter fell into a river near the family’s house in the Mekong delta two years ago and nearly drowned — prompting the family to put up bamboo fences around the house.

“We should have done that before. We were too busy with making baskets. We need to work hard if we are to earn enough to feed our children,” Chung was quoted as saying in a UNICEF statement. “Our thoughtlessness almost cost the life of my daughter.”

The world’s poorer countries and communities often lack basic safety education programs and quality healthcare, said Chan of the WHO. When its available, life-saving health services can be economically devastating.

“The costs of such treatment can throw an entire family into poverty,” Chan said.

The report calls on countries around the world to issue prevention measures such as seatbelt and helmet laws, child-safe medicine bottles, water heater controls and safer designs for nursery furniture and toys. It also recommends various traffic safety improvements and putting fences around pools and ponds to prevent drowning. A child-friendly version with safety tips was issued at the conference and online.

Such steps have been taken in many high-income countries and have reduced child injury deaths by up to 50 percent over the last 30 years, the report says.

Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF’s executive director, said unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for children between 9 and 18 years old and 95 percent of these injuries occur in developing countries.

“More must be done to prevent such harm to children,” she said, also speaking via video.


Childcare is bad for your baby, working parents are warned
A Unicef study suggests that government policy is at odds with the developmental needs of children under 12 months

A child painting at a children's centre in London

By Alexandra Frean

Parents and governments are taking a “high-stakes gamble” with the long-term wellbeing of children by subjecting them to long hours of formal childcare from a very young age, according to a Unicef report.

The study, which has prompted Beverley Hughes, the Children’s Minister, to complain to the UN agency, recommends that all children should where possible be cared for by parents at home during the first 12 months of life. Children from the poorest homes face the double disadvantage of being born into material deprivation and receiving sub-standard childcare, Unicef says.

The research, which draws on a wealth of scientific and psychological studies, as well as government data, is bound to reignite the fraught debate on whether overexposure to formal childcare is bad for very young children.

It is also likely to provoke concerns over whether growing political, social and economic pressure on parents, particularly those on low incomes, to return to work soon after their child is born is at odds with emerging research into children’s brains showing the importance of stable one-to-one care in the first year of life.

So this is it. Unicef has finally pronounced on childcare and its verdict is damning. Mothers who tear their babies from their breasts, squeeze themselves back into a suit and return to work before their darlings are old enough to say “Mummy stay home” are in danger of damaging their child for life.While nurseries lined with cots and feeding charts may not be quite as cruel as Romanian orphanages, they are harming babies under 2 who need one-to-one contact with an adult to thrive.

Unicef’s league table ranks countries by the type of care that they provide for young children in “their most formative years” and Britain languishes near the bottom half. The report suggests that babies need constant love as a foundation for intellectual as well as emotional development, that stress (presumably from being separated from their mothers) can disrupt their developing brain and that children’s early interaction with their family establishes “the patterns of neural connections and chemical balances” that profoundly influence what they will become.

The guilt. Mothers clutching their lattes as they rush from school to work still absent-mindedly holding their child’s book bag will feel sick as they watch the stay-at-home mothers cruising back on their son’s scooter, baby strapped to their front. Have they disadvantaged their children by going back too soon? Will their daughter go to university after being left with a series of Bulgarian au pairs? Will their child ever be invited on playdates if they never go to those coffee mornings with the other mothers? Do they really need the money so much that they have sacrificed their son’s wellbeing for a bigger house and mortgage?

The last time Unicef produced a report into children’s happiness it didn’t take long for British parents to begin flagellating themselves with their daughters’ skipping ropes. This country came at the bottom of the happiness league. The Archbishop of Canterbury said it was shocking, a new post of children’s commissioner was created, and children’s writers weighed in. It didn’t matter that the statistics were skewed, that North Korean children, when asked by their cane-wielding teacher, are bound to say that they are content and that the Americans refused to add in any statistics on teenage pregnancies. British mothers are tortured about how to bring up their children. This country tops the world league in childcare manuals.

The latest Unicef report says that more than half of all British mothers now go back to work when their child is under 1 but the Government’s statistics show that it is just under half and that the number of women in full-time work is actually dropping. Many employees are now taking advantage of a year-long maternity leave and flexitime to diversify or modify their careers so they can spend more time making cupcakes with their families. There has been a 40 per cent drop in women in senior management roles at UK FTSE 350 companies in the past five years and the majority of working women are part-time.

Middle-class children don’t suffer from a moderate amount of high-quality childcare, whether they are reading The Gruffalo with an au pair, a nanny, a grandmother or in a nursery. It is their mothers who become anxious, racked by remorse at leaving their babies with someone who soon knows more about their shoe size and their preference for sweetcorn-and-honey sandwiches. Mothers leave strict instructions about only feeding their little ones organic beetroot compotes and not watching DVDs. But even if their children do inexplicably seem to prefer pies to polenta and know all the lyrics for Bob the Builder, the statistics show that as long as they were looked after by loving adults, they will not be psychologically harmed.

There has never been a golden age of childcare. Even in the 1950s when the majority of women saw being a wife and mother as their primary role, most were distracted by a constant round of shopping, washing and cooking.

The real problem, as the report admits after a great many pages, concerns children from poorer backgrounds who may already be disadvantaged. These children, particularly those who have English as a second language or who come from deprived homes, are likely to thrive if they integrate with other children from the age of 3, which is why so many resources have been poured into the Sure Start programme for pre-school children.

However, for children below that age the picture is very different. For those who attend large, underprovided nurseries the result is likely to be slower development and underachievement at school. A study of children using government-funded childcare in the UK showed that those in “group care” before the age of 3 tended to show higher levels of antisocial behaviour at school.

The Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph suggested last year that the best nurseries could cater for the needs of the very young but that the worst were “negligent, frightening and bleak, a nightmare of bewildered loneliness that was heartbreaking to watch”. A recent Ofsted report backed his findings, stating that more than half of the childminders and nurseries in some London boroughs were “inadequate”, with many staff being unqualified and uncommitted.

So this report is more valuable to the Government than to anxious middle-class parents who obsessively vet their nurseries and nannies. Yesterday ministers announced reforms to the welfare state that will encourage mothers with children over the age of 1 to “prepare” for the job market.

Yet it is clear that there is little point in forcing the least well-off mothers back into work if their baby is going to be looked after by another poorly paid worker in charge of several babies. Either the Government must help these mothers to recognise that looking after their young children is a serious job or they must provide these children from deprived backgrounds with highly skilled, well-paid nursery teachers who can help to improve their chances in life not damage them.

Meanwhile, all those earnest, well-meaning, nervous middle-class mothers should relax. The most significant Unicef research shows that the happiest mothers create the most contented children; so whatever decision you make, stop worrying and your child will be fine.



Canada fails to meet nine of out 10 proposed standards aimed at ensuring children get the best start in life through education and support programs, tying for last place among affluent countries, an analysis released Wednesday by UNICEF concludes.

The UNICEF benchmarks are crucial for children in their formative years, says the United Nations organization.

“We over-invest in remedial action down the line when kids reach their teen years and under-invest in the early years when their behaviour, their comportment, their learning can really be set for the rest of their lives,” said Nigel Fisher, head of UNICEF Canada.

The benchmarks, which UNICEF calls practical and reachable, include providing a year of parental leave at 50 per cent or more of salary and spending one per cent of gross domestic product on childhood services.

Sweden was the only country to meet all 10 standards and Iceland met nine among the 24 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Slovenia, which scored six out of 10, was the only non-OECD country assessed.

At the bottom, Canada and Ireland were found to reach only one benchmark: half of staff in accredited early-education services have proper post-secondary qualifications. The United States met three.

Martha Friendly, director of the Toronto-based Childcare Resource and Research Unit, said Canada’s poor showing came as no surprise.

“The child-care transition . . . is being facilitated by public policies in most countries,” Friendly said.

“In Canada, this has been left to be a private family responsibility. We have very weak public policy and that would be at the national level and at the level of most of the provinces.”

Friendly said the federal government needs to send an “emergency signal” showing it considers the issue important by making commitments in its budget next month.

The UNICEF report argues that many OECD countries need to almost double current levels of expenditure on early childhood services to meet minimum acceptable standards.

Canada, for example, spends roughly 0.2 per cent of its GDP on child supports, Fisher said.

The report notes that most children in the developed world are spending their earliest years in some form of care outside the home.

About 80 per cent of children aged three to six are in some form of early childhood education and care outside the home.

About one in four under the age of three are also cared for outside the home – with the proportion rising to one in two in some countries.

“What we are now witnessing across the industrialized world can fairly be described as a revolution in how the majority of young children are being brought up,” the report states.

“To the extent that this change is unplanned and unmonitored, it could also be described as a high-stakes gamble with today’s children and tomorrow’s world.”

The report emphasizes advances in recent years in scientific research show the long-term importance of giving kids a good educational and emotional start in life – something especially key for marginalized or otherwise disadvantaged children.

The report can be found at www.unicef.ca.

UNICEF proposed benchmarks and rankings for early child care

TORONTO – UNICEF has issued a report ranking 25 countries against 10 proposed benchmarks when it comes to early childhood services.

Among proposed minimum standards:

Entitlement to paid parental leave of at least one year at 50 per cent of salary

A national plan with priority for disadvantaged children

Subsidized and regulated child care for 25 per cent of children under three

Subsidized and regulated child care for 80 per cent of children aged four

Accredited training for 80 per cent of child-care staff

Staff-to-children ratio of 1:15 in groups of under 25

Public funding for children under six of one per cent of GDP

Top five and bottom five affluent countries in terms of meeting early child-support standards:

Sweden: 10

Iceland: 9

Denmark: 8

Finland: 8

France: 8

Switzerland: 3

United States: 3

Australia: 2

Canada: 1

Ireland: 1


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The State of the World’s Children 2008: Child Survival

The State of the World’s Children 2008 provides a wide-ranging assessment of the current state of child survival and primary health care for mothers, newborns and children. It examines lessons learned in child health during the past few decades and outlines the most important emerging precepts and strategies for reducing deaths among children under age five and for providing a continuum of care for mothers, newborns and children.

The State of the World’s Children 2008: Executive Summary

The State of the World’s Children 2008 examines the current state of child survival and primary health care for mothers, newborns and children – and outlines strategies for reducing under-five deaths and providing a continuum of care. The pocket-sized executive summary provides an overview of the full report and includes regional summary indicators.

The State of Africa’s Children 2008

The State of Africa’s Children 2008 is a regional edition of UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2008 report. Complementary to the global report, it examines the state of child survival in Africa and highlights the need to position child health at the heart of the region’s development and human rights agenda. It also outlines possible solutions – programmes, policies and partnerships – to accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

The State of Asia-Pacific’s Children 2008

The State of Asia-Pacific’s Children 2008 is a regional edition of UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2008 report. Complementary to the global report, it examines child survival in Asia-Pacific and highlights the need to place child health at the heart of the region’s development and human rights agenda. It also outlines programmes, policies and partnerships that can accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

The State of Latin American and Caribbean Children 2008

The State of Latin American and Caribbean Children 2008 is a regional edition of UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2008 report. Complementary to the global report, it examines child survival in Latin America and the Caribbean and highlights the need to place child health at the heart of the region’s development and human rights agenda. It also outlines programmes, policies and partnerships that can accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

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