Watch: ‘Silence’ on Malta’s child wellbeing issues a cause for concern

Lack of open spaces making children unhappy

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Among developed countries, Malta is one of the least likely to provide children with a happy childhood, according to a recently-published UNICEF report. But it’s the silence in the face of such a damning assessment that worries Prof. Carmel Borg, an associate professor in the University of Malta’s Faculty of Education.

Prof. Borg was speaking to presenter and fellow University of Malta academic Andrew Azzopardi on the latest edition of Andrew Azzopardi on 103, which focused primarily on children’s concerns.

The UNICEF report at the heart of the debate is the Innocenti Report Card 16, which assessed child wellbeing in 41 wealthier countries.

Malta ranked an unenviable 34th, and was also one of only three countries – along with the US and Chile – to find itself in the bottom third of rankings for each of the three wellbeing outcomes assessed by UNICEF: mental wellbeing, physical health and skills.

“Sometimes people ask why I can get so emotional about these issues,” Borg, who regularly speaks out on children’s issues, maintained.

“But if we are not angered by the fact that we ranked 34 out of 41 countries on children’s wellbeing, I don’t know what should anger me.”

Loss of open spaces is a loss of children’s rights

Borg said that there were various reasons why Maltese children were not as happy as their peers, but observed that one issue repeatedly came up in discussions on the topic: the loss of open spaces.

“I tell my children that they have every material thing they need, but they do not have the happiness I had when Malta was supposedly much worse off. And one key reason – which children repeatedly bring up – is the lack of spaces,” he explained.

When he had been a child, he noted, children could play in streets and in the countryside, but open spaces have increasingly been chipped away for private and commercial reasons, leaving “children practically confined in their homes.”

“And even this space is shrinking,” Borg added.