The United Nations, which collects voluminous statistics across the planet, recently introduced disaggregated data for mortality rates to show data for children under five years of age. The latter are distinct from infant mortality rates which are much more widely quoted and cover deaths of babies under one year. The new data tell us that if infants make it beyond the first year of life, their chance of survival to age five becomes even more difficult: the mortality rates for those under five are generally higher.
Mortality rates for both infants and children under five years are expressed in number of deaths per 1,000. Data are further broken down to indicate male and female mortality and show that the female death ratio is lower than that of males nearly everywhere and, in the more developed countries, the rates are often both low and equal. This apparently is the corollary to the sex ratio at birth which, demographers point out, shows a somewhat higher number of boys being born.
There are only eight countries where the female mortality of the under fives exceeds that of males. The exceptions include China and India, the most populous countries with a solid record of tampering with the sex ratio at birth. In both countries, not only are fewer females being born – by decree of the one-child policy in China and by male preference choice in India – but surviving female babies are often abandoned or left to die, especially if food is scarce and families cannot feed all their children. Even anecdotal evidence bears this out. For example, visitors to Mother Theresa’s orphanages in Calcutta note the presence of more females than males.
Six other countries also have a higher under-five mortality rate for females: Afghanistan, Niger, Pakistan, Micronesia, Tonga, and Qatar. The first two have the world’s highest mortality rates for both males and females under five. Afghanistan is afflicted by war, tribalism, illiteracy, and severe underdevelopment. Niger shares similar characteristics but also has the world’s highest fertility rate (7.2) and one of the lowest life expectancy (57 years). See below for a summary of these rates.
Among developed countries the lowest rates – four per 1,000 – were recorded for both males and females in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Singapore. Four other countries showed rates of five per 1,000 for males and four per 1,000 for females: Czech Republic, Finland, Hong Kong, and Japan. The contrast between the results for Hong Kong and those of China could not be starker.
In China and India if abortion does not terminate females, then conditions in the first five years of life endanger their existence. When will they learn that tiny females matter? They are the future brides of males – and mothers of the next generation.
Mortality rates for children under five years per 1,000
– average 2005-2010
Afghanistan 233 238
Niger 186 190
Pakistan 91 100
India 74 84
China 25 35
Micronesia 41 43
Tonga 17 27
Qatar 9 12
Source: UN Statistical Yearbook, Fifty-second issue, 2008.
* Vincenzina Santoro is an international economist. She represents the American Family Association of New York at the United Nations.