CHILDREN CONTINUE TO FACE DANGERS DAILY – REPORT
REMARKABLE progress has been made in the health and well-being of children and young people since 1990. But profound inequality means little has changed for many in the world’s poorest regions. Children around the world also face unprecedented dangers from climate disruption and unregulated commercial actors.
These are the findings of a report recently published by a WHOUNICEF-Lancet commission on redefining and accelerating progress on child health and well-being. The commission is made up of child health, climate change and health systems researchers and advisers from universities, non-governmental organisations, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The commission developed a new “flourishing index” which assessed children’s health, education, growth and experiences of violence.
It also created a sustainability index which ranked countries based on their excess greenhouse gas emissions. Strikingly, no country did well on sustainability, flourishing and the absence of inequity. All three are essential for securing the future of children and young people.
The commission reported on the performance of 180 countries and gave them a ranking. As commissioners from South Africa, we have focused here on how South Africa performed.
The country was in 127th position on the flourishing index, lower than countries with much fewer resources. For example, Vietnam is a lower middle-income country but is in 58th position on the flourishing index. On the sustainability index, South Africa ranked 150th and Vietnam 85th.
This means that children face many more health, development and sustainability challenges in South Africa than in Vietnam, despite South Africa being more economically advanced than Vietnam.
South Africa stood out as a unique example of a country that performed poorly across both the flourishing and sustainability indices.
The indicators captured in the flourishing index highlight the enormous gaps that remain for children and young people in South Africa.
The sustainability index indicates that the problems don’t end there. The country has extremely high carbon emissions, unusually for an upper middle-income country. South Africa’s carbon emissions are driven by the heavy reliance on coal for energy and heavy industry.
The country is already experiencing the impact of climate breakdown. Keeping emissions under control requires action on new policies that allow for renewable energy production.
In addition to inequality and climate disruption, the commission found that children were targeted by harmful marketing practices. Large companies that dominate the food and beverage environment have become more widespread in.
Children and young people face unprecedented threats to their health and well-being from inequality, commercial marketing and climate breakdown. Drastic action is needed to address this. Steps identified by the commission include:
● Controlling emissions: Without change, there is a 93% chance that global warming will exceed 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, with catastrophic consequences.● Controlling harmful marketing: Children face increasing exposure to commercial advertising and social media promoting inappropriate foods, alcohol, tobacco and gambling. ● Involvement of children: Children’s contributions lead to improved social cohesion and more equal communities. It is their future; their voices must be heard and they must have the means to hold adults accountable.
● Leadership: Courageous leadership is called for at all levels. Child well-being is often delegated to smaller departments, bundled with disability and women’s issues. This must change.
Tomlinson is a professor at the Institute for Life Course Health Research in the Department of Global Health at Stellenbosch University. George is the South African research chairperson in Health System at the University of the Western Cape. Doherty is the chief specialist scientist at the South African Medical Research Council