Rina Mae Acosta & Michele Hutchison
7 JANUARY 2017 • 7:00AM
Two toddlers have just chased each other to the top of a climbing frame and are jostling to get down the slide first. Their mothers are lost in conversation on a nearby park bench. In the distance, a dog barks and a little boy ambles along on his balance bike, trailed by his grandfather who is pushing a buggy. A gang of older children in tracksuits comes racing along the bike path, laughing and joking. They overtake a young mum who is cycling more slowly, balancing a baby in a seat on the front of her bike and a toddler on the back. A group of girls is playing piggy-in-the-middle on the grass, their joyful shrieks filling the air. Not far away, some boys are perfecting their skateboarding moves. None of the school-age children is accompanied by adults.
In 2013, a Unicef report rated Dutch children the happiest in the world. According to researchers, Dutch kids are ahead of their peers in childhood wellbeing when compared with 29 of the world’s richest industrialised countries. The United Kingdom came 16th and the United States ranked 26th, just above Lithuania, Latvia and Romania – the three poorest countries in the survey. Children from the Netherlands were in the top five in each of the categories assessed: material wellbeing; health and safety; education; behaviours and risks; and housing and environment. In fact, the Dutch scored highest for behaviours and risks, as well as for education (a category in which the UK came 24th).
When it came to Dutch children rating their own happiness levels, more than 95 per cent considered themselves happy. Several other research surveys have likewise highlighted the positive benefits of growing up in the Netherlands – Britain’s Child Poverty Action Group and the World Health Organisation, for example. The Unicef report was a follow- up to one conducted in 2007, in which the Netherlands were first heralded as a prime example of childhood prosperity. The UK and the US ranked in the two lowest positions.