• Kyodo

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Japanese children were rated as second-worst in mental well-being among 38 developed and emerging countries due to poor life satisfaction and suicides, a UNICEF report said Thursday.

While Japanese children ranked first in physical health and live in relatively well-off economic circumstances, bullying in schools as well as difficult family relationships are leading to a lack of psychological well-being, the U.N. Children’s Fund found.

Only children in New Zealand ranked worse than Japan in terms of mental well-being.

The report, titled “Worlds of Influence: Understanding What Shapes Child Well-being in Rich Countries,” looked into three key categories — mental well-being, physical health and academic and social skills — using data collected before the coronavirus pandemic.

Taking into account all three categories, the Netherlands topped the list, followed by Denmark and Norway. Japan landed 20th, the United States 36th and Chile last.

The paper’s findings were based on U.N. statistics covering members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Union.

In 2018, the Netherlands reported the highest rate of 15-year-old children with high life satisfaction at 90 percent, while Turkey ranked bottom at just 53 percent. Japan came in second to last at 62 percent.

In Japan, an average of 7.5 adolescents per 100,000 aged 15 to 19 killed themselves between 2013 and 2015, compared with 14.9 in New Zealand, which had the second-highest rate. The highest rate belonged to Lithuania at 18.2, while Greece had the lowest rate of 1.4.

When it came to obestity, however, Japan logged the lowest rate with just 14 percent of those aged 5 to 19 classified as overweight or obese in 2016. The United States had the highest rate of 42 percent.

In academic proficiency and social skills, Japan placed 27th.

Although Japanese children ranked fifth in reading and mathematics proficiency, they were second to last when it came to confidence in making friends easily, with just 69 percent of 15-year-olds saying they felt that way, just topping the 68 percent logged by Chile.

Japan had the lowest unemployment rate in 2019 among the countries surveyed, but the rate of children living in poverty stood at 18.8 percent, below the average of 20 percent.

Education expert Naoki Ogi labeled Japan’s schools a “bullying hell” and said excessive competition to get into prestigious schools is a negative factor for mental health.

“It’s inevitable for children (in Japan) to have low self-esteem and lack a sense of happiness,” he said.

Looking forward, the UNICEF report said the ongoing coronavirus crisis will add to the challenges faced by children.

“What started as a health crisis will spread to touch all aspects of economies and societies,” it said. “Children will not suffer the worse direct health effects of the virus. But as we know from previous crises, they will be the group that experiences the longer-term negative impacts most acutely.”

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