KidsRights Index: celebrating 10 years of making an impact on children’s lives worldwide

Skyline of Rotterdam.
Children playing in a playground.
ANP / Hollandse Hoogte / Roger Dohmen

The annual KidsRights Index has become impossible for governments to ignore. This international league table ranks all UN member states in terms of the state of children’s rights. For its initiator, the KidsRights Foundation, Erasmus School of Economics and International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, are key partners when it comes to publishing the league table. Without their scientific expertise, compiling the Index would be impossible. What does the annual publication of the Index involve and why is it that the league table has such an impact on children’s lives worldwide?

In this year’s edition of the KidsRights Index, the eleventh, the Netherlands took a significant nosedive. Whereas our country was ranked fourth last year, it has now dropped to twentieth. The Index also shows that one in every four children worldwide is estimated to live below the poverty line in 2023. “As you can tell, the Netherlands is performing poorly. Because of waiting lists in the youth care system, young people aren’t getting the help they need – a painful situation. Services for children and young people receive relatively little funding here, especially compared with other wealthy countries”, claims KidsRights Foundation founder and chair Marc Dullaert.

Marc Dullaert, founder and chairman of the KidsRights foundation.
Marc Dullaert
KidsRights foundation

The Netherlands is doing particularly badly in the area of youth care and youth protection services. Dullaert makes the link between the decentralisation of youth care and the accompanying cutbacks in spending. Politicians also noticed the lower score, which came as a shock to the House of Representatives. On 27 June, one day after the publication of the KidsRights Index, the House held a debate on the issue of youth care. “I’ve never heard the Index mentioned so many times before. It’s obvious that policymakers are taking steps to address the outcomes. In 2020, something similar happened in the UK when that country was ranked 169th. The House of Commons was in an uproar.”

Seen by more than two billion people

The Index now reaches more than two billion people, with reports in global media outlets from The Guardian to CNN. In addition to comparing government spending on children and young people, the Index also looks at the state of children’s rights in various countries. Moreover, all countries are reviewed every five years. Those that have failed to make progress on addressing their weaknesses and have done too little with earlier recommendations drop down the league table. “The Netherlands’ sudden plunge can be explained by the fact that it has made little headway. By contrast, other countries have achieved much more”, Dullaert explains.

Professor Econometrics Philip Hans Franses.
Michelle Muus

Objective and transparent

The KidsRights Index assesses individual country performance by examining children’s rights in the context of five different themes (including education, health and safety). But how do you measure this, and how can you compare countries in a reliable and reproducible way? “Our goal is to measure as objectively as possible”, says Professor of Econometrics Philip Hans Franses (Erasmus School of Economics). “We have a reputation to uphold, not least because we want politicians to take us seriously. All our data are public and our deliberations are extremely transparent.”

After determining an index score on the basis of data on children’s rights, the professor divides the countries into five clusters (distinguishable by colour in the KidsRights Index). There are sufficient data for a large number of countries, but for others it is more difficult to determine a score. “In those cases, we look for a measurement methodology ourselves. This is stressful, as it requires a certain level of interpretation that we need to account for properly.”

MA graduation 2020-2021 - Karin Arts
Dick de Jager

KidsRights Index has become impossible for countries to ignore

When it comes to gaining insights into the underlying factors, the International Institute of Social Studies’ expertise is indispensable. Karin Arts, Professor of International Law and Development, knows the context in which the countries operate well. She studies and assigns scores to UNICEF country profiles. To the KidsRights Foundation’s Dullaert, it is exactly this combination of disciplines that makes the partnership so successful. “This ensures that the KidsRights Index has a solid scientific foundation. At the same time, a league table is a highly accessible tool. Together, we bridge the gap between science and social applicability. Naturally, Erasmus University Rotterdam’s distinguished reputation also helps. By joining forces, we’ve made others reluctant to question the KidsRights Index.”

“We don’t just want to lobby policymakers, but also want to instigate change from the bottom up"

Marc Dullaert

Founder and chair of the KidsRights foundation

KidsRights is much more than an index alone: each year, the Foundation awards the prestigious International Children’s Peace Prize to honour children who have made a breakthrough in the field of children’s rights. One of the best-known winners is Pakistani children’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai, who won the prize in 2013 for her efforts to get girls into school. Dullaert: “We don’t just want to lobby policymakers, but also want to instigate change from the bottom up. Among other things, we do this by supporting local projects for and by children. Examples include the planting of trees to combat desertification and the building of new classrooms after a flood.”

Climate as the sixth theme

Unfortunately, Franses and Dullaert have found that the impact of climate change on children is rising. Persistent drought has made crop failures increasingly common, while ever more extreme rainfall has led to more flooding. That is why ‘climate’ has been added as the sixth theme. “This year, we experimented with this for the first time by looking at the climate risks for each individual country", Econometrics professor Franses explains. “Elaborating the climate theme further will require the utmost care, but it will help us stay relevant. Making an impact is increasingly important to the university. With Jan Tinbergen as a founder, I believe making an impact is in our DNA.”

More information

Erasmus University Rotterdam turns 110

Our research matters! During our 110th year, we’re showcasing the impact of research conducted by Erasmus University Rotterdam. Read more about how we’re marking our 110th anniversary during the 2023-2024 academic year. 

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Read more about the KidsRights Index here

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