The Child Development Index

Holding governments to account for children's wellbeing


What does the Child Development Index tell us about how children are faring around the world?

Are some countries making good progress in improving child well-being? Is it getting worse in other countries?

Save the Children's new Child Development Index is the world's first and only tool to answer these questions. It combines each country's performance in three areas specific to children, to produce a score on a scale of 0 to 100. We have measured child well-being over 3 peiods from 1990. Japan is in first place, scoring just 0.4. Niger in Africa is in 137th place, with the highest score, 58, in 2000-2006.

Overall, child well-being as improved by 34% since 1990, but progress is slow. Leaders must consider how children are doing and how their decisions impact them. By telling us how children are faring, this index is the first step in that process.

What does the index tell us about how children are faring in different regions?

Africa

Children are doing worse in Sub-Saharan Africa than any other region. Africa scores 35 in the Index, reflecting the high level of deprivation in primary schooling, child health and child nutrition. It is also making the slowest progress, improving child well-being by only 20% over 1990-2006.

However, progress has been very mixed; some countries in Africa have done incredibly well, while others did spectacularly badly. Countries like Malawi cut child deprivation in half, enrolling more than 90% of primary school children. But some of the poorest children in Africa live in countries suffering from conflict and poor governance; such as Zimbabwe, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Slow progress in reducing child mortality and malnutrition is a particular problem; one in six babies born in Africa will not live to see their ffth birthday. Rich and poor countries worldwide must urgently choose to tackle this problem.

East Asia

East Asia has made considerable progress in child well-being in recent years, improving it by 45% over 1990-2006, reducing deprivation to a score of just 8.5; only one other developing region, Latin America, scores better. It has the best level of primary school enrolment and has managed to halve its child mortality rate over 1990-2006. Much of this progress is because of China’s significant improvement, where almost two-thirds of the region’s children live. China has made tremendous progress in increasing people’s incomes; nonetheless 417,000 children under the age of 5 years still died in China in 2006 alone. Countries like Malaysia and Thailand did even better in all 3 of the areas our Index measures. But, as in other regions of the world, government policy plays an important role in children's lives. For example, Myanmar saw almost no improvement at all. And in many countries, the poorest, most isolated groups are being left behind.

South Asia

South Asia has a high level of deprivation, scoring 26.4; this is 3 times worse than East Asia. It is also making slow progress, improving child well-being by just 32% over 1990-2006 (compared to East Asia’s 45% improvement). This is because India (where almost three-quarters of the region’s children live) made the least progress of any country in South Asia; just a 27% improvement. In this region, child nutrition is a substantial obstacle; almost 1 in 2 children is underweight. Malnutrition levels are not being reduced rapidly enough; the region’s enrolment indicator improved by 59% while its nutrition indicator improved by only 14%. Higher levels of economic growth in the region are not widely translating into reduced child deprivation.

Latin America and the Caribbean

The region made substantial progress in improving child well-being in the 1990s, scoring 6.8 in our index of child deprivation, the lowest of any developing country region. It made the most percentage improvement of any region in the world, reducing child deprivation by 57% over the period, 1990-2006. This improvement was largely driven by reductions in child mortality and increases in primary school enrolment. The region’s child mortality rate is now the lowest of any developing region. The region’s poorer countries, like Peru and El Salvador, have started to catch-up with the levels of child well-being seen in better-off countries in the region.

East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa region scores 11.2 in our index, worse than East Asia but only a third as bad as Sub-Saharan Africa, and has reduced its level of child deprivation by 41% over 1990-06. However, there is considerable variation within the region. Yemen is doing poorly, with a large increase in malnutrition over the period. And in several countries, such as Djibouti and Jordan, progress has stalled in some areas. In addition, the region includes Iraq, Lebanon, and the occupied Palestinian territory where child deprivation has increased. In contrast, several large countries such as Morocco, Egypt and Algeria have made substantial improvements. Again, little improvement has been made in reducing child malnutrition in the region as a whole.

Central & Eastern Europe and Central Asia

The region containing Central & Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, for which data are much sparser in the early 1990s, saw an improvement of almost 15% in its Index score between 1995-99 and 2000-06. Its score stands at 9.2, slightly worse than East Asia and slightly better than the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey, with a large child population, made the most progress in the region, reducing its score from 20 in the early 1990s to 7 for 2000-06.

Developed countries

Our Child Development Index shows that there is a low level of deprivation in developed countries in the three basic areas of child rights that it measures. On our scale of 0-100, these countries score 2.1, the lowest regional Index score worldwide. There is still some variation between these countries however; for example the United States has a child mortality rate that is twice of Japan’s and worse even than that of Cuba’s.