Rwanda named 2nd global ‘biggest mover of change for improving children’s lives’

The Minister for Health, Dr Diane Gashumba, gives milk to children in Nyagatare District last month. Rwanda has been ranked the biggest achiever in improvement of children’s lives over the last two decades, scoring 744, up from 504 in 2000, according to Save the Children’s “End of Childhood” index. / File

Rwanda is the biggest mover of change for improving children’s lives in its region and the second-biggest in the world, a new report by Save the Children says.

Launched Tuesday, May 28, the 2019 Global Childhood Report evaluates 176 countries across the globe on their ability to protect children ‘childhood enders’ – life-changing events like child marriage, early pregnancy, exclusion from education, sickness, malnutrition and violent deaths.

Rwanda reduced under-5 mortality by 79 per cent over 20 years, the report says.

“Many more children are in school and many fewer children are married before age 18, with the out-of-school rate and child marriage rate both down by 60 per cent. Rwanda also cut child labour, adolescent births and child homicides in half since 2000,” the report says.

Sierra Leone made the most dramatic progress globally, registering a 99 per cent reduction in the number of people forcibly displaced from home, with 1 in every 5 people displaced in 2000, compared to 1 in 700 today, the report adds.

Rwanda’s score rose 241 points, from 503 to 744 since 2000 in Save the Children’s “End of Childhood” index which ranks countries according to how well they create a protective environment for children, according to a statement.

The report indicates that “Rwanda has improved on most indicators”, 25 years after the Genocide against the Tutsi.

Ethiopia and Niger are the other countries that made the most progress globally, with the report largely attributing the gains made by the four countries to “political choices”.

Singapore tops the global rankings as the country that best protects and provides for its children, with eight Western European countries and South Korea completing the top 10.

“The Central African Republic is the country where childhood is most threatened, followed by Niger and Chad,” the report shows.

Rwanda is among the four countries in East and Southern Africa, – alongside Ethiopia, Angola and Zambia – that increased their index scores by 200 points, representing substantial improvements for children over the past 20 years, the report shows. 

Philippe Adapoe, Save the Children Rwanda Country Director, said in the statement: “Rwanda has made this great progress due to strong Government leadership that forces accountability and encourages local level authorities to ensure great progress in all sectors including health, education and child protection.”

He added: “The Government of Rwanda in partnership with Rwandan people, civil societies and development partners has been working to improve health systems, investing in education, strengthening legal frameworks, and empowering children to make life choices that set them on a path to realize their full potential”.

The report says that “major health sector reforms and investments in Rwanda have built up the health workforce, increased immunisation coverage and increased exclusive breastfeeding, among other advances. Improved socioeconomic conditions have also been important for Rwanda’s success.”

But there is still more work to do, warns Save the Children’s Philippe Adapoe.  “The progress is outstanding. But there are still many stunted children and other missing out on education. We need to keep the momentum to ensure every Rwandan child accesses quality education, health and is protected.”

In the region, the report says that, while substantial progress has been made, the under-5 mortality rate remains high overall, with 59 deaths per 1,000 live births. 

Globally, the highest under-5 mortality rate was found in Somalia, with one child in eight dying before their 5th birthday. 

South Sudan also remained in the global top ten for under-5 mortality.

But the report generally paints a positive picture, indicating that at least 280 million children around the world have a better chance to grow up healthy, educated and safe than at any time in the past two decades. 

“In the year 2000, an estimated 970 million children were robbed of their childhoods due to ‘childhood enders’. That number today has been reduced to 690 million – meaning that at least 280 million children are better off today than they would have been two decades ago.”

Together, China and India account for more than half of the global decline in stunting alone.

Of the eight ‘childhood enders’ examined in the report, displacement due to conflict is the only one on the rise globally, with 30.5 million more forcibly displaced people now than there were in 2000, an 80 percent increase, it adds.

The report includes the annual End of Childhood Index, which finds that circumstances for children have significantly improved in over 70% of the 24 countries in the East and Southern Africa since 2000.