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What can babies born in 2019 expect growing up in the EU?

An estimated 13,575 babies are estimated to have been born across the 28 EU Member States on 1 January, just 3.4% of the world’s total. Jana Hainsworth reflects on what they can expect growing up in the EU.

To welcome in 2019 I looked at UNICEF data estimating the number of babies born on 1st January 2019 and their life expectancy. An estimated 13,575 babies are estimated to have been born across the 28 EU Member States that day, just 3.4% of the world’s total. Of all EU Member States, the UK had the highest number of births.  With Brexit on the horizon, it’s worth noting that without the UK, babies born in the EU would account for only 2.8% of the world total, just slightly above the US. Accession of Western Balkan neighbours to the EU will only marginally increase numbers.

What can babies born in 2019 expect growing up in the European Union? We certainly have among the highest life expectancies in the world.  It is predicted that most babies born in the EU this year will live to see in the new century, with Spain and Italy having the highest life expectancy at 84 years.  But most of the world’s children are born in countries whose life expectancy are far below even the lowest performing EU Member States. If you’re unlucky enough to be born in Sierra Leone (901 babies are estimated to have been born on 1/1/2019, comparable to Poland with 950) you can expect to live to 53 years, as opposed to 75 in Bulgaria, Latvia or Lithuania.  Faced with war, famine and extreme poverty, there’s little wonder that, those who can, will risk everything for the chance of building a life for themselves and their children in Europe.  And given Europe’s ageing population, it is extremely short-sighted of governments not to focus on creating safe channels for migration and effective migrant integration.

So from a global perspective growing up in Europe is a privilege only for the lucky few. But zoom in and the picture is much less rosy. Inequality and poverty within and between countries prevents far too many children from reaching their full potential. We know more and more about the importance of childhood experience as a determinant of later outcomes - our health, education, employment opportunities and quality of life. Yet investment in children still does not get the policy attention it deserves nor the necessary allocation of public money.

2019 is a year of change for the EU. Last year Eurochild welcomed European Commission proposals for the next 7-year EU budget which foresee funding to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, with a specific focus on tackling child poverty and promoting childcare. The European Parliament reinforced this ambition requesting a European Child Guarantee to help ensure children’s equal access to free healthcare, free education, free childcare, decent housing and adequate nutrition, with a 5.9 billion Euros price tag. We’re also supporting efforts that target EU funds towards the transition from institutional care to family and community-based care, which can contribute to achieving our goal of ending institutional care for all children in Europe.

European Parliament elections in May and the subsequent renewal of the European Commission will be decisive in whether these ambitions see the light of day.  That’s why we’re mobilising all our efforts around a ‘Vote for Children’ campaign in partnership with other children’s organisations.  We’ll be working closely with the Romanian EU Presidency and UNICEF to give visibility to children’s voices and to build on the Europe Kids Want survey.

2019 also marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 10th anniversary of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Lisbon Treaty, which made promotion of children’s rights an explicit objective of the EU.  Progress has been made, but so much remains to be done to fully realise children’s rights in Europe. This year more than ever we need to keep investment in children at the forefront of the political agenda, to renew and strengthen the EU’s ambition for children.  Our future depends on it.