Reuters, December 10, 2006

Children Suffer When Mother Lacks Input, UNICEF Says

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Children are likely to be undernourished in households where women are denied a voice in family decisions like doctor visits, food expenditures and trips to see friends and relatives, says a report by the U.N. Children's Fund, UNICEF, released on Monday.

Tracing the life cycle of women, the report said eliminating discrimination against women has a profound impact on the survival and well-being of boys and girls.

``When woman are empowered to lead full and productive lives, children and families prosper,'' said Ann Veneman, UNICEF's executive director in releasing the agency's flagship report, timed for its 60th anniversary.

A growing body of evidence, the survey said, shows that where women cannot make basic decisions on income and other family needs or leave the home at will, their children suffer in proper nourishment, education levels and health care.

In West and Central Africa, when resources are scarce, women spend 74 percent of available funds on food while men spend just 22 percent of available funds on food, it said.

But in only 10 of the 30 developing countries surveyed did 50 percent or more of women participate in all household decisions, including those concerning their own health care, purchases, spending and visits with relatives and family.

These included women in Zimbabwe, Philippines, Indonesia, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Colombia, Peru, Haiti, Bolivia and Egypt. However, in Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria, almost 75 percent of women said their husbands alone make decisions regarding health, UNICEF said.

The study concluded that if men and women had equal influence in decision-making, the incidents of underweight children from birth to 3 years old in South Asia would fall by up to 13 percent, resulting in 13.4 million fewer undernourished children. For sub-Saharan Africa, an additional 1.7 million children would be adequately nourished.

Discrimination begins early, with a clear preference for sons, which indicates aborting a female fetus or killing a girl infant after birth. China and India, the world's most populous countries report an unusually high proportion of male children under 5 years of age, the report said.

During school years, for every 100 boys out of school, 115 girls are not in the classroom. Educated women are more likely to insist their children attend school.

Only 43 percent of girls in the developing world attend secondary school, which often correlates with a lack of knowledge about sexual health and AIDS.

Early marriage also hinders women's health.

An estimated 14 million adolescent girls between 15 and 19 give birth each year. The chance of dying in the first year after birth for babies born to girls under 18 is 60 percent greater than that of babies born to women in their 20s.

And girls under 15 are five times as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than women older than 19 years.

But the survey steered away from an explicit call for family planning, such as birth control to space children of teen-age brides.

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