Ireland is at risk of leaving its most vulnerable children behind as the poverty gap widens, a United Nations report has found.
Unicef cited Ireland as the 10th best place in the world to be a child in a league table for child well-being in 29 industrialised countries.
Its report card found that, while Ireland has a relatively low child poverty rate of 8.5%, those who do fall below the breadline fall harder than in 25 other countries - giving Ireland one of the largest child poverty gaps. The data, calculated in 2010, will be launched at a meeting of international experts in Dublin who aim to end child poverty within the EU.
Peter Power, executive director of Unicef Ireland, said: "It's vital we don't forget the children who are behind these statistics, who have always been below the poverty line and continue to fall. We are in danger of leaving our most vulnerable groups of children behind.
"There are young people finishing school faced with an uncertain future who need more options for further education and training. The growing levels of bullying are a warning to our society to do more to tackle a problem which has devastating and long-lasting effects. When we ask young people what is the defining issue for their generation, they tell us that mental health services need to be strengthened."
The report card recorded a significant decline in children smoking and more modest declines in drinking and teenage pregnancies. It found that Ireland has the highest rate of children exercising, with almost one in three children exercising for at least an hour a day.
But only 70% of children eat breakfast every day and a rise in the number of children who are overweight to 15% puts Ireland ahead of the UK, Germany and France. Elsewhere, Ireland has the third highest number of 15 to 19-year-olds in education, employment or training. And Ireland is one of only five countries to experience an increase in bullying during the 2000s. One quarter of children would not label classmates as being kind.
More than 70 participants from nine EU countries and six international organisations will attend the report launch at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. It is the only event of Ireland's EU presidency focused on children.
Maria Corbett, of the Children's Rights Alliance, said: "One in four children in the European Union is at risk of poverty, or already experiencing it. That equals 25.3 million children. With the economic crisis and Government austerity measures, poverty - in particular child poverty - is escalating across the continent. Here in Ireland, we have seen the consistent poverty rate for children rise from 6.3% in 2008 to 9.3% in 2011. Child poverty is a scourge which seriously impacts on children's rights in Ireland."
Globally, the Netherlands retained its position at number one, followed by four Nordic countries - Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The UK was placed 16 on the report card.