Australian Children Rank Low in Mental Health

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Suicide, poverty, obesity and only average academic skills have become common features of childhood in Australia indicated authors of a new report published by UNICEF.

Of the 38 nations studied, Australia’s overall ranking was 32th.

"Worlds of Influence: Understanding what shapes child well-being in rich countries", uses pre-COVID-19 data and features a league table according to children's mental and physical health and academic and social skillset.

The study covered three broad areas, mental well-being, physical well-being and academic and social skills.

The study found that the fatality rate in Australia was high, placing country in the fifth position among the world's worst performers. Nearly 10 in 100,000 adolescents aged 15-19 years in Australia committed suicide in 2013-2015, the researchers quoted WHO Mortality Rate data. Out of countries in the region, only New Zealand had a higher rate with nearly 15 children dying per 100,000 peers. But South Korea and Japan were positively ranked higher with 30 per cent smaller suicide rate among children than in Australia.

"In times of crisis and calm, families need supportive governments and workplaces in order to raise the next generation of happy and healthy citizens," stated Mr Fayaz King, Deputy Executive Director at UNICEF. "An investment in children is a direct investment in our future."

Australia received most of the points in the category of the skills, but it was also the average among the world rich countries. More than 50 per cent had not educational books at home to help with schoolwork, and 46 per cent of children aged 15 years without basic reading and mathematics skills. While in Japan only 27 per cent, and in South Korea, 30 per cent did not have these skills. New Zealand also performed better with 65 per cent of children able to read and calculate at this age.

Australia also ranked low at 28 in physical health rating.

Although the mortality rate per 1,000 children was an average one, the Australian children were among the top ten the most obese, according to the report. With 34 per cent overweight or obese children, Australia ranked at eight places from the bottom. New Zealand's ranked the second-worst with the United States preceding it. But Japan had the best ranking with only 14 per cent, and South Korea was 22nd.


Wrong economic policies worsened well-being of children

The poor results are closely linked to the government economic policies of frugality with ambitions to achieve surpluses, the report suggested. Such policies do not benefit the majority of families, who are not a narrow margin of affluence.

The economic policy of fiscal tightening with a slightly above 2.5 per cent of GDP spending on the families, including only about 1.7 per cent in cash, resulted in the worsening of the economic and health situation. A policy of the imposed frugality and crackdown on the welfare payment for families has contributed to the catastrophic results.

It is clear, that better performance depends on the correct pro-family policies which, in the current economic situation, include the significantly higher payments in cash. Jobs, alone will never improve this situation.

For instance, UK payments for unaffluent families constituted 2.3 per cent of GDP, and above 2.5 per cent in Luxembourg. These countries were 5 and 19 points higher on the ranking list than Australia.

While in Australia, the unemployment rate still did not return to the pre-2008 level, despite the government claims, the politicians imposed draconian policies of punishing poor while increasing spending on the government expenses including discretionary expenses for the ministers.
The disastrous economic policies pushed 17.5 per cent of families to poverty. That is such a percentage of households fell below 60 per cent of the national median per capita income.

"Many of the world's richest countries - which have the resources they need to provide good childhoods for all -- are failing children," said Ms Gunilla Olsson, Director of UNICEF Innocenti. "Unless governments take rapid and decisive action to protect child wellbeing as part of their pandemic responses, we can continue to expect soaring child poverty rates".

The latest polls showed that the distribution of income across the whole society has been improving. However, the indicator which measures it, Gini coefficient is still higher than in Canada, and some EU countries including France, Denmark, the Netherlands or Switzerland, which were also studied by the authors of the report.

But the most optimistic finding in the report was 95 per cent of families stated that they had someone they count on in the times of troubles.

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