The state of Colombian children compared to other countries

This post has the objective of developing an international comparative descriptive review of the situation of children in Colombia, based on international development data from the United Nations System, particularly from UNICEF and DevInfo.

To answer the title’s question, I first choose a set of 26 developing and developed countries of my interest, representing both developed and developing countries, as well as major regions like Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. Then, I cluster these countries into groups with similar demographic and economic conditions. The indicators used to do this clustering of countries are:

Table 1. Demographic and economic base indicators for country clustering

Category Indicator
Demographic 1. Population (thousands), 2010, under 18
2. Life expectancy at birth, 2010
3. Total fertility rate (TFR)
4. Proportion of population urbanized
Economic 5. GNI per capita (US$), PPP US$, 2010
6. % of income received by the 40 percent of households with lowest income

The clustering exercise results into the following three groups:

Figure 1. Dendogram of countries based on demographic and economic indicators

Colombia falls under Group 1. This group has large child populations, mid-level fertility, high urban population, mid-level income per capita, high income inequality, and high life expectancy. Other countries in Group 1 include Russia, Turkey, Morocco, Malaysia, Poland, and all Latin American countries in the sample, except Chile.

Next, Group 2 is comprised by Pakistan, Uganda, India, and Botswana. These countries are characterized by high fertility rates, low urban populations, low income per capita, high income inequality, and low life expectancy.

Finally, Group 3 comprises developed countries, most of which are members of the OECD. These countries include: the US, France, Germany, UK, South Korea, Spain, Canada, Sweden, Czech Republic, Singapore, and Finland. Although this group has one subgroup of countries with large children populations and other sub-group with small children populations, they all have in common low fertility rates, high proportions of urban population, high income per capita, mid-level inequality, and high life expectancy at birth. Here is a summary of these findings:

Table 2. Summary of demographic and economic indicators of clusters

Following the above classification of countries, the next step involves performing a diagnosis of the situation of children among them. The framework to do so is based on two key sources: the first source is United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which is the most widely ratified human rights treaty with 190 ratifications, and the document that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children worldwide. The second source is The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) State of the World’s Children Report 2012. Our framework is comprised of 18 indicators of childhood welfare organized in the following key dimensions: maternal health and child survival, child health, child nutrition, child education, and child family care and protection. Details on the indicators included in each child welfare dimension are provided in the following table:

Table 3. Base indicators for childhood welfare analysis

Child welfare dimension Indicator Code
1. Maternal Health and child survival 1. Antenatal care coverage (%), At least four times
2. Maternal mortality ratio, deaths per 100,000 live births
3. Infant mortality, deaths per 1,000 live births
4. Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel
2. Child Health 5. Immunization, 1-year-old children immunized against: DPT1
6. % of population using improved drinking water sources
7. % of population using improved sanitation facilities
8. % of central government expenditure allocated to: health
3. Child Nutrition 9. % of infants with low birth weight
10. % of children who are: exclusively breastfed, (<6 months)
11. % of under-fives suffering from: underweight, moderate & severe
4. Child Education 12. Net enrolment ratio in primary education, female (%)
13. Net enrolment ratio in secondary education, female (%)
14. % of central government expenditure allocated to: education
5. Child Family Care and Protection 15. Orphans, Children (aged 0-17) orphaned due to all causes
16. Child labor, total
17. % female who consider a husband to be justified in hitting or beating
18. Child marriage, married by 15

Based on these childhood welfare dimensions, the following sections will provide a basic international comparative descriptive review of the situation of children in Colombia.

Maternal health and child survival
About 97% of pregnant women in Colombia have pre-natal care coverage and a similar percentage is attended by skilled personnel at birth. This is comparatively high relative to the average of countries in Group 2 and near to levels of developed countries in Group 3. Nevertheless, Colombia still lags behind in maternal mortality and infant mortality which are currently at 61 per 100,000 live births and 14 per 1,000 live births, compared to an average of 12 and 4 respectively in developed countries.

Child health
Child health is captured in this post through three indicators: the first indicator is the percentage of 1 year olds that are immunized. For the sake of simplicity the vaccination against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT) have been chosen. The second indicator is the proportion of population that has access to improved water and sanitation. Finally, government’s expenditure in health as a percentage of GDP is reviewed. Annex 2 indicates that in this category of child health, Colombia falls to the last three positions of Group 1 due to only 74% of the population with access to improved sanitation (compared to 100% of Group 3 and 41% of Group 2), 92% with access to improved water (compared to 99% of Group 3 and 82% of Group 2), and 96% Immunization (compared to 97% of Group 3 and 85% of Group 2). Finally, Colombia expends nearly 9% of Central Government’s budget in health (compared to 11% of Group 3 and 2% of Group 2).

Child nutrition
To assess the state of child nutrition we review three things: the proportion of infants with low birth weight, the use of breast feeding in the first five months of life, and the prevalence of underweight before five years of age. Colombia results well rid here.  Only 6% of children present low weight and only 5% of them display overall underweight prevalence.  Nevertheless, it can be expected better outcomes in breast feeding since only 43% of Colombian infants are, compared to 68% in Peru and 60% in Uganda.

Child education
The situation of child education is revised from two angles: coverage and quality. Coverage on the one hand is looked from the lens of net primary enrollment rates, net secondary enrollment rates, and government expenditure in education. The author also wanted to look at pre-school enrollment rates but there was no sufficient data points to make the analysis. Quality on the other hand is based on scores from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Colombia presents a 93% primary net enrollment rate, the second lowest after Morocco in Group one. This is also lower than Group 3’s average 97% but certainly higher than Group 2’s average 83%. Secondary net enrollment falls to 77%, way behind from cases such as Poland’s 94%, which coincides with Group 3’s average. Finally, on the quality component figure 2 suggests that Colombia is below the mean and among the lowest performing countries in a sample of 20 developing countries in PISA in math, science, and verbal scores.

Figure 1. Comparative results the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2009

Despite the poor to average results in both coverage and quality of child education, an indicator of potential future improvement in Colombia is the high investment its Government is putting into education. Colombia is dedicating more than 20% of Central Government Expenditure into education and this figure is among the four highest in the total group of 26 developing and developed countries reviewed in this paper.

Child Family Care and Protection
The situation of child’s family care and protection is reviewed from four indicators: the number of orphaned children due to all causes, the prevalence of child labor in 5 to 14 year olds, the percentage of women that justifies husband in hitting or beating, and the percentage of woman married before 15 years of age. Colombia has about 820,000 thousand children orphaned due to all causes. Most of these causes are related to the internal armed conflict including violence exercised by armed groups, as well as urban crime which is high. Child labor is at 9%, below the average of 10% in Group 1 and well below the average of 19% in group 2. There is no figure on the % of women that justifies the husband hitting, but the author estimates that it is below Turkey’s 30%. Finally, child marriage is the second highest in group 1 at 6%, but below group 2’s average of 12%.

Overall, these findings indicate that the situation of Colombia’s childhood is still very vulnerable and this is even more worrying if we take into consideration the country’s large size population. Although the Colombia presents good health outcomes, there is still an important lag in child education quality and secondary enrollment; as well as in child protection from violence, labor, and other rights violations.

In a following post we will explore the situation within Colombia, looking at the condition and inequalities of childhood among the country’s 33 departamentos and capital district.

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Categorías:English, Social Development

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1 respuesta

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    Me gusta


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