A family friendly country is one that has a tradition of designing favorable policies to help parents and children alike. This also includes creating a conducive environment for the family to raise their child. This would mean a relatively high standard of life, access to health and education along with a lower crime level. The environment too plays an important role in this regard as it has an effect on the quality of life and health. Often, a nation requires a clearly efficient government with a strong emphasis on a structured approach to budget finances in order to provide such an all-round environment. The Scandinavian and Nordic Countries have performed very well in this regard with their Welfare System designed to provide all these amenities. In view of these parameters, I have compiled a list of the 10 most family friendly countries:
10. United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has long been advocating a further improvement in family-centric policies. This nation remains a significant leader in economic, military, cultural and political influence on an international level. Public healthcare is provided for free and is funded through taxes. In 2012, there were 18.2 million families in the UK of which 42% had dependent children. The law makes special provisions for all families. There is also a 39 weeks paid leave for women who receive 90% of their pay in the first 6 weeks. During the rest of the weeks, the rate is fixed at £128.73/week. The spouse or same sex partner can request an additional 2 weeks of paid paternal leave. Unpaid leave can last a maximum of 13 weeks. The government has launched “The Troubled Families program” in 2011. This program helps poverty-ridden, crime affected households. Despite all of this, much remains to be done in terms of improving employment. The benefits of leave are only applicable to employed people. Around 23% of children from two-parent households are living in poverty. Crime is at its lowest since 1995 by EU trends although homicide, sexual crimes, vandalism along with terrorist attacks and gang activity seems to be worrisome.
Germany is the most populous country in the European Union and continues to be a major economic and political power. It has developed a very high standard of life and social security system through its economic prosperity over time. It is one of the oldest universal health care systems in the world. It has a great deal of policy development for family support. Both parents receive paid leave for 14 weeks when they expect a baby. Fringe benefits are available as well for this period. The mother receives up to 12.78 euro/day. The law ensures that she can only return to work only 8 weeks after giving birth. Parental leave is also available. It is a long 3 year period where they receive job-protected leave after childbirth. Education facilities for children are funded by the government. Although 90 % of 3-5 year olds are covered in Germany under public and public-subsidized childcare facilities in preschools, hours can be very inconvenient for working mothers. The environmental damages of industry are heavily combated with clean technology. Crime rates in Germany have not worsened much, but organized crime is on the rise. This is particularly a cause of concern in Western Europe itself.
8. New Zealand
An island country, it is located in the south-western Pacific Ocean. It remains a well-placed nation on all major economic and social development indicators. A low population density with a wide variety of forest cover and diversity makes this an excellent place for a family to live without much pollution issues. From a policy point of view, the Treaty of Waitangi is a fundamental reference point for the development of family policy in New Zealand. It is family friendly country and has provisions for leave for both parents. The mother receives about 14 weeks of paid leave of about 100% of actual salary or $ NZ 548.82 per week. The leave can start six weeks before expected delivery date. The father receives about 1-2 weeks and this leave must be completed within 21 days after date of delivery. In terms of unpaid week, the mother is entitled to 38 weeks, and the father can share this as well. Over 80% of the population has access to these facilities with child-care help from extended family or care-givers. It is also a safer place to live. The crime rate has been steadily declining since the 20th century. In 2012, the number of offences fell to a record low. The environment also happens to be very pristine for living.
A highly developed economy, it is one of the richest countries in the world which has consistently performed very well on international parameters such as per capita income, quality of life, health, education, political rights etc. It is the second highest ranking nation on the HDI Index. Owning to such excellent performance, one would expect family friendly facilities. There is support for both parents at 18 weeks of paid leave at minimum wage of $606/week. Unpaid leave with job protection is for over a year is available. Despite being a semi-arid or desert area, Australia is home to a diverse ecosystem. Recently, the environment has become a source of concern. Climate change is becoming a source of concern over time. It has among the highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the world and ranked 51 in the 2010 Environmental Performance Index. Water shortages are also becoming a problem in some cities and drought is occurring quite frequently. Crime levels are varied regionally. However, young offenders(10-19 years) are on the rise and also the most common crime among men is theft. The percentage of people against police action has been taken has gone up in recent years, and crime levels are not too alarming as a result.
It is a north American country and is the second largest country by land mass. It is a very advanced economy and has performed superbly on global levels in terms of economic indicators, quality of life as well as government transparency and education. It is the most family friendly country among the North and South Americas. Both parents receive paid leave when they have a baby. The mother receives about 55% of the pay or about $485/week. This goes on for 50 weeks and includes 15 weeks of maternity leave along with 35 weeks of shared leave with the father. Unpaid leave is available for 2 weeks. However, insurance requirements need to be satisfied for this facility under the Employer Insurance Scheme. This means that self-employed people cant enjoy this leave. However, Canada also has “The Canadian Coalition for Family Supportive Policy” which focuses on supporting families with children who have disabilities. This is a unique provision. Other factors where this country performs well consist of its environment that is now experiencing a drop in pollution levels. However, air pollution and contamination are an issue. Crime levels remain moderate, and St John’s is one of the most violent cities in the country. Overall, it performs well in terms of family friendliness.
Denmark is another top ranking nation in economic and social parameters. In Danish culture, parents are not seen as the only ones responsible for their child. Much help and advice is available from local authorities. Child and youth allowance is also available till the child turns 17. The parents receive a combined paid leave of 52 weeks after the birth of the child with 100% pay covered. The mother gets 18 weeks and the father receives 2 weeks for their exclusive use. Beyond this period, the rest of the weeks are to be used as they see fit. Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16, with the tenth year being optional. It is free and is financed by the state and the municipalities. Special classes are provided for children with both intellectual and physical disabilities. In terms of environmental performance, Denmark lags behind Sweden and Norway. However, it is making a consistent effort to reduce emissions. It also has a relatively low crime status although there has been a rise in home break-ins since 2009 by 24%. Problems related to human trafficking, cross-border crime and illegal immigration are dealt with regular border checks and upgradation of the police force. Overall, it remains a good country for family life.
This nation is the most sparsely populated country in the world with a population of 320,000 and landmass of 40,000 sq m. Despite poverty and underdevelopment till the 20th century, it eventually went on to become one of the richest nations through a string of good policies. Today it ranks at the 13th best developed country in the world and also tops the list at Gender Equality. Their family policy promotes the participation of women in the labor market. It also supports dividing the burden of raising children between the parents. Both parents receive about a 3 month paid leave and have an allowance for up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave. They receive about 80% of their salary during paid leave. Iceland also has an excellent healthcare policy despite long queues for operations and other health services. It follows the State Welfare System in this regard. The country is relatively safe as well, and violent crime is rare. It is the only NATO member not to have a standing army. Environmental protection is not high on Iceland’s agenda, and it has abundant access to renewable sources of energy. However, small problems do occur with farming and overfishing. Education is also another strong point and it ranks highly among the OECD nations although its average schooling time is lower than the Nordic average.
Finland is one the world’s wealthiest countries. It is often sited to have the best education system in Europe and has performed excellently in Human Development Indicators, ranked at 21 in 2013. The nuclear family system dominates where both parents are earners. In the event of child birth, the mother is granted 105 days of paid leave. The father gets 158 days of this right after the mother’s leave is over. Unpaid leave is available till the child turns 3. There is a maternity pack given to the parents containing essentials for the baby. This grant is also available to adoptive parents. Child benefits are paid till the age of 17 and are tax-free. The family leave system allows parents to spend time with their children. Social welfare and health facilities are provided for free by local authorities, and there is a wide range of non-governmental services as well (including private companies). Environment continues to be a source of concern with high Carbon dioxide emission and the recent cut in the budget for environment conservation funding from 2011. Finland has a low crime rate although homicide rate is the highest in Western Europe. However, the legal system is strong, and this is combated effectively.
A top performer in many international parameters, this nation is located in Northern Europe. It ranked 7th in the Human Developmental Index and 2nd on OECD Better Life Index. Sweden is the third largest in Europe by land mass but has a low average population density of 21 per square kilometers. About 81% of all children have a working mother while 92 % have fathers with jobs. The family in Sweden is important, and the rights of children are well protected. Each set of parents gets 480 days of paid parental leave per child, which must be claimed before the child turns eight. Children born in Sweden are also entitled to child allowance which is tax-free and paid until the child turns 16. The allowance is SEK 1,050 per child per month. Education is also free in Sweden, except for preschool and higher education (which are partly government funded). Attending school is compulsory for all children till ninth grade. Children are guaranteed a place in kindergarten. It has excellent infrastructure although air pollution seems to be on the rise. In terms of crime rates, Sweden is relatively low in crime except for Urban areas where mugging, vehicle theft, and credit card fraud are reported more during summer months. However, reported crime levels have declined recently and are rare in rural areas.
This nation has been an ideal performer in global socio-economic parameters since 2001. It ranks 1st in the Human Development index for the last 10 years and also topped the Democracy index. Norway is a very child-friendly country. In most families, both parents are working. However, almost 50% of all children are born outside of marriages and step-families are on the rise. Nuclear families are predominant, and about 5-10% have a single mother looking after them. It offers a generous leave of 56 (80% pay compensated), or 46 weeks(100%) which is shared by the mother and father. The father receives 12 weeks of this as his “daddy quota”. The mother has to take 6 weeks after birth. There is an additional 1 year unpaid leave for both parents. In terms of the environment, Norway has a stunning record as well and ranks 3rd in the 2012 Environmental Developmental Index in terms of its policies. It has amazing natural beauty and offers many opportunities for children to grow up close to nature like a number of European Countries. Crime levels continue to be countered effectively by law enforcement agencies. Education is mandatory for 6-16 year olds and is highly subsidized. The Welfare system continues to provide excellent services to families.