Immediate work needed to protect disadvantaged children - UNICEF


New Zealand child mortality rates have nearly halved in the past 25 years, and is only slightly more than a quarter it was in 1970.

The latest State of the World's Children report from UNICEF makes for good reading if you're a Kiwi, but despite significant improvements, the outlook's much more grim if you're living in sub-Saharan Africa.

UNICEF warns hundreds of millions of children are threatened by extreme poverty, largely in Africa and increasingly in Syria, and immediate work is needed to help their plight.

By 2030, it's predicted 69 million children will die of mostly preventable causes.

While improvements have been made in lifting people out of poverty, getting young children into school and saving children's lives, it's not changing fast enough.

Mortality rates for those under five have halved since 1990 -- for example, dropping from 181 to 91 per 1000 births in Afghanistan, despite the war, and 102 to 49 in Kenya. New Zealand's fell by a similar percentage, from nine to five per 1000. In 1970, it was 21.

But worldwide, it's twice as likely children dying at that age are from the poorest regions and households than the richest.

It's particularly significant in sub-Saharan Africa. At least two-thirds of children there, more than 247 million, are deprived of what they need to survive and develop, living in multidimensional poverty.

The report projects a grim future for the region, where 90 percent of children will be living in extreme poverty, more than half of primary-school age children still won't be getting an education, and of the 69 million under-fives dying of preventable causes, half will be from sub-Saharan Africa.

"Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures -- by fuelling intergenerational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies," says UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.

"We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided."

In order to prevent this dark future from occurring, the world's governments, donors, businesses and international organisations need to speed up and intensify efforts to help some of the world's most disadvantaged and vulnerable people.

New Zealand is ranked equal 153rd for child mortality, out of 193 countries. The worst -- 157 out of every 1000 births -- is Angola. Other countries with mortality rates above 100 include Chad, Somalia, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria and Benin.

Most of Europe is doing better than New Zealand, including ex-Soviet states Belarus and Lithuania. The lowest child mortality rate -- zero -- was shared between Liechtenstein, which has only 37,000 people, and the Vatican, which has 842. Otherwise the lowest rates -- two per 1000 -- are found in Finland, Iceland and Luxembourg.