LONDON (TrustLaw) – Health and education disparities between boys and girls in developing countries tend not to emerge until adolescence, when girls face increased risks of child marriage, HIV/AIDS infection and domestic violence, according to a report from the United Nations’ children’s agency.
For boys and girls in developing countries, life starts out much the same. Children of both genders are equally likely to be registered at birth, irrespective of sex, while the likelihood of being undernourished is the same for boys and girls under age five, UNICEF said in its report Tuesday – “Boys and Girls in the Life Cycle.”
Young boys and girls are also equally likely to benefit from malaria interventions and to receive proper care for diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia – the two leading causes of under-five deaths – the report said.
Meanwhile, in most countries where data is available, similar proportions of boys and girls get a pre-school education, the report added.
But as children hit early adulthood this equality can start to fade.
“While there is little difference between boys and girls in early childhood with respect to nutrition, health, education and other basic indicators, differences by gender appear increasingly more pronounced during adolescence and young adulthood,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF deputy executive director.
The report said girls are significantly more likely to be married as children – before the age of 18 – and to have sex at a young age.
Poverty, poor healthcare and a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases compound the threats for the 10 million girls under 18 who get married each year, mostly in Africa and South Asia.
Young women are also less likely to be literate, leaving young men better informed about HIV/AIDS, the report added.
With young men more likely to protect themselves with condoms during sex, young women in sub-Saharan Africa are two to four times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS, the report said.
According to Gupta, “…gaps in knowledge between young girls and boys on the risks about HIV and AIDS are tragic, with two out of three of the estimated five million young people living with HIV/AIDS in 2009 in Africa and other developing regions, being female.”
Around the world, 33.4 million people live with the HIV/AIDS virus, the majority in sub-Saharan Africa.
(Editing by Lisa Anderson)