Almost 10% of teenagers not in work or school

Education, food insecurity and pregnancy levels measured by Unicef report

One Irish child in five lives in a household where no adult is employed, twice the average of high-income countries.

The rate for Japan is 2 per cent, and for Switzerland, 3 per cent, according to an international measure of child welfare published by Unicef.

One Irish teenager in 11 is not in school or work, a rate that has doubled since 2005.

Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rate among developed countries, the survey shows. Just 55 per cent of Irish mothers have ever breastfed, compared to 98 per cent of Swedish mothers and rates of 80 per cent in the US and the UK. By the time of their child's first birthday, 2 per cent of Irish mothers are breastfeeding – only the UK is lower, at 0.5 per cent.

Irish children enjoy the best air quality among all high-income countries, the Unicef report states.

Air pollution levels in Ireland are less than half the levels of other OECD countries, according to the Building the Future report card from the UN children’s fund.

Half of all high-income countries studied fail to meet the safe levels for urban air quality established by the World Health Organisation, according to the report, which makes the point that children are especially vulnerable to such pollution.

The average level of urban air pollution for the 41 countries studied exceeded safety thresholds.

Educational attainment

Birth rates among Irish teenage girls are falling, the report shows. One in 100 Irish girls became pregnant when aged between 15 and 19, below the OECD average.

Ireland generally performs well on measures of educational attainment; for example, four out of five Irish 15 year olds have reached a baseline competence in reading, science and maths, well above the average of 69 per cent.

After the Scandinavian countries, Ireland is highly effective in reducing child poverty through social transfers, according to the survey.

The report also says 18.3 per cent of Irish children are living in relative income poverty – ranking 17th of the 41 countries – and 17.9 per cent live with an adult who is food insecure.

Across the wider region, one in five children in high-income countries lives in relative income poverty and an average of one in eight faces food insecurity, rising to one in five in the UK.

Across many high-income countries, trends such as income inequality, mental health and obesity appear to be worsening. There are also wide gaps between the performance of countries, not all of it explained by income levels. Slovenia, for example, is far ahead of wealthier countries on many indicators, while the US ranks a lowly 37th of 41 countries overall.

Unicef says high-income countries need to put children at the heart of equitable and sustainable progress and to ensure no child is left behind.

It says no country does well on all indicators of wellbeing for children and all countries face challenges in achieving at least some child-focused targets.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times