KidsRights warns against the polycrisis for children worldwide, as projection reveals one in four will be living below the poverty line this year

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A polycrisis of unprecedented levels is currently being experienced across the globe as children continue to suffer at the hands of multiple and often mutually reinforcing crises. This is all confirmed in the KidsRights Index Report 2023 released on Monday 26 June, the only ranking that annually reviews the global state of children’s rights worldwide.

According to the eleventh consecutive edition of the KidsRights Index Report, which is developed in collaboration with Erasmus School of Economics and the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, most likely because of rising poverty, under-5 mortality rates in countries such as Madagascar and Niger have risen. Likewise, the rates of child labour are reported as having doubled or even tripled in some countries, including Belarus, Colombia and Venezuela. The war in Ukraine has disrupted global supply chain security, which has contributed to skyrocketing food and energy prices and has created a steep cost-of-living crisis. This has had a significant impact on children and their caretakers, in addition to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ukraine’s 7.5 million children are the most disproportionately affected by the war and large numbers were displaced from their country of origin.

Devastating impact of climate change on children’s rights

The KidsRights Index 2023 mentions the devastating impact of climate change on children’s rights in its first experimental analysis of this matter on this area.  The report notes that in any case children living in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia, India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam face particularly high exposure to climate hazards, shocks and stresses. In practice, this problem applies to children in many more countries, especially in Africa and the Pacific. However, given that the available data on this is far from complete, it is not yet possible to give a more complete picture. In addition, the report highlights the destructive effects of environmental disasters such as the flash floods that hit Pakistan in 2022 and washed away 27,000 schools. Two catastrophic earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria earlier this year, with 3.7 million children affected in Syria alone.

The continued impact of the pandemic on global children’s health(care)

Furthermore, the KidsRights Index Report 2023 reveals negative developments in Domain 2 (Health) for children across the world, caused by disruptions to immunisation programmes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Child vaccination rates have been set back by more than a decade, as 67 million children missed out entirely or partially on routine immunisations between 2019 and 2021. This has already resulted in an exponential rise in zero-dose children. The percentage of zero-dose children is highest in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Myanmar at a staggering 60%. Vaccinations for measles, polio and tuberculosis were not administered to any children in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2022, putting half a million (500,000) of North Korea’s children at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases.

The ripple effect of Russia’s war on Ukraine

Russia’s war on Ukraine had a devastating immediate impact on the country, with Ukraine’s 7.5 million children paying the highest price of all. The UNHCR and UNICEF both predicted that at least 1.6 million of these children would likely be displaced outside their country of origin. The real figure is likely to be even higher. The immediate impacts weren’t only physical, however, with it being estimated that 1.5 million Ukrainian children would need mental and psychological support to recover from their war experiences. This is especially problematic given the pressure the war has had on Ukraine’s healthcare system and now that access to trauma care is extremely limited due to a lack of medical supplies.

Developments in the country rankings

The past year of data collection and analysis results in a complex and gloomy picture of children’s rights across the world. While there was some jostling for the top position in the Index, with Sweden jumping to number one and thereby taking the place of Iceland which had held this position for the past four consecutive years, the overall record showed deterioration rather than progress.

As usual, all countries were evaluated across five Index Domains: Life, Health, Education, Protection and the Enabling Environment for Child Rights. Most countries showed poorer results this year than last year. Only four managed to improve their overall ranking – these were Greece, Kuwait, Ukraine (based on an assessment of the situation preceding the war), and Uzbekistan. However, the total picture reveals that children’s rights around the world are in an alarming state. This requires immediate and forthright action.

Action needed to respond to the polycrisis for children’s rights

The above-mentioned events, alongside others, have resulted in the loss of lives, denial of basic rights, unfulfilled needs, a limiting of potential, and an increase in poverty levels, which are affecting children in every country across the world and will continue to do so for generations.

Marc Dullaert, Founder and Chair at KidsRights, is now calling on governments to focus their efforts on investing in children for the betterment of our society and the planet: ‘This year’s report is most alarming. Our promising next generation is being disadvantaged at every turn in this post-pandemic state of polycrisis – whether it is about the devastating wars in Ukraine and Sudan, the crippling cost-of-living, tragic environmental disasters, the banning of girls from access to higher education in Afghanistan, or the all-time-low immunisation rates globally. Immediate actions are required on the part of states, humanitarian and other relevant agencies to protect children from this current catastrophe and to pave the way for a more positive and hopeful future.’

More information

The KidsRights Index report 2023 is available here.

The KidsRights Index has been published annually since 2013 and thus appears in its 11th edition this year. It is the first and only fully comparative worldwide annual index that systematically compares the child rights performance of (as of recent nearly all) countries that are bound by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

For more information, please contact Ronald de Groot, Media & Public Relations Officer at Erasmus School of Economics:, +31 6 53 641 846.

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