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Belgium ranked 18th for childcare and parental leave

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Belgium came in 18th place out of 41 countries ranked for the quality, cost and accessibility of their childcare, according to a report from UNICEF released on Friday.

UNICEF, or the United Nations Children’s Fund, is a United Nations non profit organisation focused on the social welfare of children.

“Affordable, quality childcare is out of reach in many of the world’s richest countries,” UNICEF said in its recent report.

“When childcare is expensive, socioeconomic inequalities are accentuated and women are deterred from returning to work. Among parents who used organised childcare in Europe, 38% found its cost difficult to cover. Another 15% would like to use day care but cannot do so, with affordability being the main obstacle, especially for low-income families.”

The report is titled “Where Do Rich Countries Stand on Childcare?” and ranks countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU) according to their national child care and parental leave policies.

The accessibility, cost and quality of these services, from birth to school age, are taken into account in the rankings.

Luxembourg, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Germany are at the top of the list of high-income countries, while Slovakia, the United States, Cyprus, Switzerland and Australia are at the bottom. Belgium is in the middle at number 18 out of 41 countries.

Belgium scores well on the accessibility indicator (8th place), but on parental leave, quality of care and affordability of childcare, it ranks much lower (26th, 21st and 23rd respectively in the ranking).

While Belgium has recently extended paternity leave and reformed early childhood education, UNICEF sees more work to be done.

“While all rich countries with available data provide free childcare, in many countries this entitlement does not begin until three years of age or later,” UNICEF said in its report.

“Only Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Norway, and Slovenia provide free access for children under three. In most countries, free childcare is only sufficient for parents who work part-time.”

The report notes that childcare closures due to Covid-19 have made the situation worse for families with young children. Many parents have had to care for their children while fulfilling their work responsibilities, while others have lost their jobs.

In that regard, Belgium extended the length of parental leave taken during the pandemic.

“Accessible, affordable, and quality childcare helps parents return to work after parental leave, improves children’s social and cognitive development, and promotes a more gender equitable society,” UNICEF said in its report.