Report shows widening disparities between boys and girls in developing world

Disparities in education, health and protection between boys and girls in developing countries are less stark than once thought during the early childhood years. But significant gaps, mostly favoring males, grow through early adolescence to young adulthood. The UNICEF report, 'Boys and Girls in the Life Cycle', is the most comprehensive compilation to date of sex-disaggregated statistics on children and young people in the developing world.

NEW YORK (September 13, 2011) — While disparities in education, health and protection between boys and girls in developing countries are less stark than once thought during the early childhood years and in some cases have reached parity, significant gaps, mostly favoring males, grow through early adolescence to young adulthood, according to a UNICEF report issued today.

“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. "For example, gaps in knowledge between young girls and boys on the risks about HIV and AIDS are tragic, with 2 out of 3 of the estimated 5 million young people living with HIV/AIDS in 2009 in Africa and other developing regions, being female," she added.

The UNICEF report, 'Boys and Girls in the Life Cycle', is the most comprehensive compilation to date of sex-disaggregated statistics on children and young people in the developing world. Data from the report suggests that gender disparities are relatively small in children's early years of life among the indicators examined – education, health, nutrition and protection.

Overall, children are equally likely to be registered at birth irrespective of sex. Exclusive breastfeeding rates in the first six months of life are similar for both sexes in most countries with available data, and the likelihood of being undernourished is the same for boys and girls under age five. Boys and girls are equally likely to benefit from malaria interventions, and to receive proper care for diarrheal diseases and pneumonia—the two leading causes of under-five deaths. In most countries with available data, similar proportions of boys and girls attend pre-school education.

However, gender inequalities in access to education, health and protection are significantly greater as children approach adolescence. While gender parity in primary education is now common throughout the world, it is less likely at the secondary level although this also depends on the region. For example, fewer girls go to secondary school in South Asia, whereas the opposite is true in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Available data show that girls are significantly more likely to be married as children (under 18 years of age) and to begin having sex at a young age. In Sub-Saharan Africa, girls are also more likely to report that a husband is justified in beating his wife under certain circumstances. Young women are less likely to be literate than young men and are less likely to watch television, listen to the radio and read a newspaper or magazine. Young men are better informed about HIV/AIDS and are also more likely to protect themselves from the disease with condoms during sex. Ultimately, young women in sub-Saharan Africa are two to four times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS than young men.

"Closing gender gaps in all stages of childhood and eliminating gender discrimination—whether against girls or boys—are fundamental to inclusive and sustained progress for countries around the world. In addition to the harmful and often-tragic effects of gender inequalities on children themselves, the kinds of persistent inequalities that we continue to see in the available data, especially in the adolescent years, are major barriers to the efforts of many nations to move out of long term poverty and achieve their development aspirations," said UNICEF's Geeta Rao Gupta at the presentation of the report in New York today.

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian aid organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health and immunizations, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency and disaster relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from 13 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009. But still, 22,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, (m) 646.428.5010, smasur@unicefusa.org
Kiní Schoop, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2634, kschoop@unicefusa.org