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What Makes Children Happy?
Jan 24, 2014

The latest Small Voices Big Dreams survey asked children around the world “ What makes you feel safe and happy?” Their answers were insightful, profound and moving. Particularly interesting were the similarities and differences between the answers given by children in developed and developing countries.

School has more impact on children feeling safe and happy in developing countries (25%) than in developed countries (5%). It rates most highly in Asia (35%), particularly in Nepal (84%). We get a sense of school’s importance from Pedro, 12, from Timor-Leste where 80% of children believe everyone should have a good education. “When the rain comes and floods, I cannot go to school,” he says “I feel sad because I have no chance to learn new lessons.” Consistent with this theme, children from developing countries are more likely to view their teachers as heroes than in the western world.


In Ireland, there was a stronger emphasis on home life, with Siofra an 11-year-old girl from Dublin (pictured below) among the 73% of Irish children who said they feel safest and happiest with their family.

6,499 children between the ages of 10-12 from 47 countries across the Americas, Europe, Africa, Pacific and Asia took part in our fourth annual survey, which this time focussed on child protection.

The children were also asked questions on more complex issues such as “What does peace mean to you?” “What are the main causes of violence in your country?” and “Who is your hero?” What comes across clearly from their answers is that many 10-12 year olds have a sophisticated understanding of the world they live in and hope for a fairer, safer future.



  • The significance of families as role models and educators is universally reflected in the results of the survey, with 48 per cent of children in the developed world and 44 per cent of respondents from developing countries saying their families or family members were their heroes.
  • Children in developing countries are more likely to regard teachers as heroes, whereas children in the western world see mum and dad in heroic terms.


  • Children in developing countries believe education is more important for themselves and their families; whereas children in developed countries believe protection from violence is more important.


  • Over one in 10 of children in developing countries believe the lack of education links to violence in their countries, whereas in developed countries, most children did not make the same connection. Children in Ireland and around the world are astutely aware of the causes of violence in their countries. Bad behaviour (33 percent), alcohol (21 percent) and drugs (18 percent) were the top three main causes of violence according to children in developed countries; whereas children in developing regions also ranked poverty, domestic abuse and social conflict highly. In Ireland, 28% of children surveyed believe alcohol abuse as being one of the main causes of violence.


  • In response to the question “If you were the leader of your country, what is the ONE thing you would do to protect the children of your country from violence?” 30% would crack down by using stronger anti-violence laws, 12% improve education or guarantee the personal safety of all children in order to protect other children from violence. The Irish feedback agreed with the global census: over one in five children said they would introduce law and order.


  • Two in three (67 per cent) of children in Sweden and 58 per cent of Irish respondents showed a concern for social equality and said everyone should be given a fair go
  • 63 per cent of Canadian respondents said that one of the most important things to them is that nobody should be treated badly
  • 79 per cent of children in Nepal and 66 per cent of children in Germany believe men, women, boys and girls should not be treated differently, suggesting that children in these countries are aware of gender equality.

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