Child advocacy group: Kids in 173 countries better off now

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A children's advocacy group says youngsters in all but three of the 176 countries it evaluated have a better chance of growing up healthy, educated and protected from harmful practices like child labor and child marriage than at any time in the past two decades.

Save the Children said in a report released Tuesday saying that U.N. statistics show at least 280 million children are better off today. But it said a quarter of the world's children are still denied the right to a safe and healthy childhood, with youngsters fleeing or caught in conflict the most disadvantaged.

Singapore tops the rankings as the country that best protects and provides for its children, followed by Sweden, Finland, Norway, Slovenia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, South Korea and Belgium. At the bottom were Central African Republic, Niger despite recent progress, Chad, Mali and South Sudan.

The Global Childhood Report 2019 said the most dramatic progress since 2000 was among some of the world's poorest countries. Sierra Leone made the biggest improvements, followed by Rwanda, Ethiopia and Niger.

The United States ranks 36th in the 2019 report, tied with China. It ranks just above Bahrain, Belarus and Kuwait and ahead of Bosnia and Russia, tied at 38.

Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, said the report looked at eight indicators of a good childhood including child survival, education, child labor and early marriage and compared the year 2000 with 2018.

"There has been remarkable progress if you look across the world," she said at a recent briefing on the report's finding. "It's an amazing statistic" that the indicators overall got better in 173 of 176 countries.

Compared with 2000, Miles said there was a 49% drop in deaths of children under age 5, a 40% drop in child labor, a 33% drop in chronic malnutrition and stunting, and a 25% drop in child marriage.

She said only one of the indicators rose — the number of children living in conflict or affected by violence — and it increased "very significantly."

There was an 80% rise in children living in or fleeing conflict zones in the 2000-2018 period, Miles said, "and today's conflicts last much, much longer."

According to the report, an estimated 420 million children are living in conflict zones, more than double the number in 1995, and nearly 31 million children today have been forcibly displaced from their homes.

Launched ahead of International Children's Day on June 1, the report said that in 2000, an estimated 970 million children were robbed of their childhood by events such as exclusion from education, malnutrition, sickness, violent death, child marriage and early pregnancy. That number today has been reduced to 690 million, it said, meaning at least 280 million children are better off today than they would have been in 2000.

The report said this means that today there are 4.4 million fewer child deaths every year, 49 million fewer stunted children, 130 million more children in school, 94 million fewer children working, 11 million fewer child marriages and 3 million fewer teen births.

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