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More than 50% of world’s children face grave threats

Save the Children report examines grave threats to childhood, calls for urgent action to protect children

More than half of all children globally – over 1.2 billion – are threatened by conflict, widespread poverty or discrimination against girls, a new report by Save the Children has found.

Launched ahead of International Children’s Day on June 1st, The Many Faces of Exclusion examines how these three key factors are robbing children of their childhoods around the world.

In its second year, the report also includes a ranking of 175 countries where childhood is most and least threatened as a result of poor health, malnutrition, exclusion from education, child labour, child marriage, early pregnancy and extreme violence.

Singapore and Slovenia both rank first, with Norway, Sweden and Finland rounding out the top five. Eight of the bottom 10 countries are in West and Central Africa, with Niger ranked last for the second year running.

Simon Wright, Save the Children UK Director of International Development Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, said that while progress is being made in many parts of the world—including in West and Central Africa—it is not happening quickly enough. Alarmingly, the gap between rich and poor in many countries is also growing.

“More than half the world’s children start their lives held back because they are a girl, because they are poor or because they are growing up in a warzone. Early marriage, child labour and malnutrition are just some of the life-changing events that can rob children of their childhood,” he said.

“Without urgent action, we’ll never meet the promises made three years ago by every country at the UN in 2015 to ensure that by 2030 every child survives, learns and is protected.

“Governments can and must do more to give every child the best possible start in life. The fact that countries with similar levels of income deliver such different outcomes for children shows that policy, funding and political commitment make a critical difference.”

While the situation has improved in the past year in 95 of the countries ranked, alarmingly, conditions worsened in about 40 countries, according to the End of Childhood Index.

The report also found that:

  • More than one billion children live in countries plagued by poverty; 240 million in countries affected by conflict and fragility; and more than 575 million girls live in countries where gender bias is a serious issue.
  • Almost 153 million children are living in 20 countries affected by all three threats—including South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan.
  • Malnutrition, disease and inadequate healthcare kill over 20 times as many children in war zones as conflict-related violence.
  • The incidence of child labour in countries affected by armed conflict is 77% higher than the global average. Conflict also makes girls more vulnerable to child marriage.
  • Only four of 34 fragile or conflict-affected states with available data have achieved, or nearly achieved, universal primary education.
  • The poorest girls have about three times as many births as the wealthiest.
  • Despite their economic, military, and technological might, the United States (36th), Russia (37th) and China (40th) trail all Western European countries in the index
  • In East Asia and the Pacific, 76% of countries made progress, but the Philippines saw a decline due to higher levels of malnutrition causing stunted growth.

For Ali*, 14, growing up in Yemen, dealing with the impacts of conflict and poverty is a normal part of everyday life. Displaced and living in a basic makeshift shelter, he is now his family’s breadwinner after his father was injured in an airstrike.

“I was crying with my brother. It was very terrifying. We didn’t know what it was. I’m no longer afraid of the airstrikes. We’re now used to living in war.”   

Despite his hard work to support his family, he says they still sometimes go to bed hungry.

“Before the war I used to play and have fun with my friends. They were good days and I didn’t complain. Nowadays it’s war, the war affected everything.”

Save the Children is calling on governments to ensure that no child dies from preventable or treatable causes or is subjected to extreme violence; is robbed of a future as a result of malnutrition, early or forced marriage, early pregnancy, or forced labour; and that they have access to a quality education.


*name changed to protect identity

Notes to editors:

  • A child is defined as someone under the age of 18, as per the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Save the Children estimates that more than 1.2 billion children are threatened by poverty, conflict or discrimination against girls. This number was calculated by looking at the number of children who live in countries characterized by one of those three grave threats to childhood (conflict, poverty, discrimination against girls). Children in these countries (1.2 billion, or 1 in 2 children worldwide, or 53% of children worldwide) are at risk of being robbed of their childhoods. A more detailed explanation of data analysis is available in the full report, attached to this email.

Spokespeople are available. Please call +44 (0) 7831 650409 or email media@savethechildren.org.uk with any enquiries.