by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- More than one million infants -- and an estimated 70,000 adolescent mothers -- die each year in developing countries because young girls are marrying and having children before they are ready for parenthood, according to the fifth annual 'State of the World's Mothers' report, issued Tuesday.
The 38-page report by the U.S. chapter of Save the Children, this year titled 'Children Having Children', says education for girls is the most effective way to prevent the problem, which is particularly grave in sub-Saharan Africa.
The report, which includes an "early motherhood risk ranking" that identifies 50 countries where motherhood is particularly dangerous to young girls and their babies, says that nine of the 10 highest risk countries are in Africa, with the West African nations of Niger, Liberia and Mali topping the list.
"Access to education is key," says Charles MacCormack, president of Save the Children. "Research shows that girls who receive an education are less likely to have babies at a young age. Even mothers with only a basic education have healthier pregnancies, safer deliveries and healthier babies because they are more likely to seek health care services for themselves and their children," he added in a statement.
In addition, said MacCormack, mothers with more education are also more likely to send their own children -- including girls -- to school, and to use contraception to space their births at healthier intervals.
The risk ranking is included in the broader 'State' report, which ranks the well-being of mothers in the world's countries based on their health, education and political status.
As in the past five years, the Scandinavian nations of Sweden, Denmark and Finland dominate the top ranks, while the lowest-ranked countries are all found along a band of nations that run from Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania in Africa's west to the Middle East's Yemen, with Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Mali filling out the bottom of the list.
The United States ranks number 10, behind the Nordic and West European nations, Australia and Canada.
The criteria used to rank the countries include six indicators of women's well-being: lifetime risk of maternal mortality; per capita contraception use; percent of births attended by trained personnel; incidence of anaemia among pregnant women; adult female literacy rate; and participation in the national government.
Four indicators of children's well-being are also factored in to the ranking: infant mortality rate; gross primary enrolment rate; access to safe water; and extent of malnutrition.
As in past years, the report underlines the huge gaps between the world's wealthiest and poorest nations.
Thus, compared to a mother in the top 10 countries, a mother in the bottom 10 is 26 times more likely to see her child die in the first year of life and 750 times more likely to die herself in pregnancy or childbirth.
Similarly, in the bottom 10 countries, one out of three children is not enrolled in school, and only one out of four adult women are literate. Primary school attendance and literacy are virtually universal in the world's wealthiest nations.
The report found that access to and use of modern contraception leads to a decline in the deaths of mothers and children. In the United States, for example, where 71 percent of women use modern birth control, one in 2,500 mothers dies in childbirth and only seven out of 1,000 infants die in their first year of life.
In Mali, where only six percent of women use birth control, on the other hand, one in 10 mothers dies in childbirth, and one in eight infants dies before reaching the first birthday. Fewer than five percent of women use modern contraception in Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Sierra Leone.
A mother in Ethiopia is 38 times more likely to see her child die in the first year of life than a mother in Sweden, notes the report.
While the situation in parts of Africa has remained disappointingly static over the five years in which Save the Children has published 'State of the World's Mothers', the group notes that several Latin American countries -- notably Cuba, Chile and Costa Rica -- are approaching the achievements in women's and children's welfare attained by the world's most developed countries.
The group also lauded progress made by parts of central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, particularly the Baltic states, all of which have good health facilities founded by the communist regimes
The heart of this year's report, however, lies in the "early motherhood risk rankings," which note that in the 10 highest-risk countries, more than one in six teenage girls aged 15 to 19 give birth each year, and nearly one in seven of the babies born to these girls die before age one.
The rankings are based on marriage and birth rates among teenage girls as well as infant mortality rates for children born to teenaged mothers in each country.
Outside of the poorest nations in Africa, the ranking identified Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua and Yemen as those nations where young mothers and their infants face the greatest dangers. Indeed, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading killers of teenaged girls in the developing world.
This year's report includes stories of the lives of early mothers that help demonstrate that in some parts of the world, childhood for girls is extremely short-lived. In one case, a mother says she was married at seven, had sex at nine, and became a widow at 12.
An estimated 115 million school-aged children -- about 60 percent of whom are girls -- are not actually attending school, according to the report, which cited a series of other major findings, including:
To deal with these challenges, the report recommends the U.S. Congress increase aid for basic education, child survival, maternal health and family planning programs in poor countries and for in-school and after-school literacy programs in the United States.
Globally, the report calls for minimum-age laws for marriage to be improved and enforced.
May 2, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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