Asian nations got the highest marks in a World Bank ranking launched Thursday that names and shames countries on how much they invest in their own children, saying neglect was dooming millions to sub-par lives.
Singapore, South Korea and Japan took the top three spots in the World Bank's Human Capital Index, released at the institution's annual meeting in Bali.
They were followed by Hong Kong, Finland, Ireland, and Australia. Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada round out the top 10.
European countries dominated the next 10, while the United States came in 24th and China 46th.
Rather than using traditional measures such as GDP, the index ranks countries on how well children are prepared for the future, with an emphasis on factors like schooling and healthcare.
The World Bank said those considerations often get lost amid other national political priorities, yet were vital to fostering high-quality economic growth and development.
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim told a press conference on the Indonesian resort island that one-quarter of the planet's young people are at risk of "chronic malnutrition and illness that result in stunting".
He said this "permanently affects a child’s cognitive development, school performance, and future income".
Africa dominated the bottom half of the 157-nation ranking system.
The worst ranking went to Chad, followed by South Sudan, Niger, Mali and Liberia.
"If a country's children grow up unable to meet the needs of the future workplace, that country will find itself incapable of employing its people, unable to increase its output, and utterly unprepared to compete economically," Jim said.
"Policies to build human capital are some of the smartest investments that countries can make to boost long-term, inclusive economic growth."
Jim said the bank hopes the ranking and the data provided for each country can provide nations with a "stronger argument" when weighing whether to put resources into policies that benefit children.
The World Bank said the index shows 56 percent of children born today across the world will lose more than half their potential lifetime earnings due to inadequate government policies.
The Human Capital Index purports to measure the amount of "human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18" by assessing a range of national conditions and factors.