Childhood cancers caused an estimated 75 000 deaths in children aged 0–14 years in 2018, of which 90% were in low-income and middle-income countries, and yet this group is missing from global health agendas. We examined global patterns in public and philanthropic funding for childhood cancer research—a proxy for global research activity—to address the critical gaps in knowledge. We used data from the Dimensions database to systematically search for and analyse 3414 grants from 115 funders across 35 countries between 2008 and 2016, organised by funding source, recipient, tumour type, research focus, and pipeline categories, to investigate trends over time. During this period, global funding for childhood cancer research was US$2 billion, of which $772 million (37·9%) was for general childhood cancer, $449 million (22·0%) was for leukaemias, and $330 million (16·2%) was for CNS tumours. $1·6 billion (77·7%) of funding was awarded from, and to, institutions based in the USA. Preclinical research received $1·2 billion (59·3%), and around $525 million (25·7%) included support for clinical trials, but only $113 million (5·5%) supported health-care delivery research. Overall, funding was inadequate and geographically inequitable, and new commitments to funding have declined since 2011.