Interesting that the same week (blessedly soon-to-be-gone) President Bush announced “Sanctity of Life Day,” UNICEF released a report that girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than older women. (via)
Worldwide, more than 60 million women who are currently aged 20-24 were married before they were 18, with the most child marriages being in South Asia and in Africa.
If a mother is under the age of 18, her infant’s risk of dying in its first year of life is 60 percent greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19.
In addition, the report says adolescent wives are susceptible to violence, abuse and exploitation. Young brides are often forced to drop out of school, have few work opportunities and little chance to influence their own lives.
“If young girls are not in school, they are more vulnerable,” South African Health Minister Barbara Hogan said at the launch. “It’s not just a health issue; it is about the status of young women and girls.”
According to the report in 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available, 9.2 million children died before reaching the age of 5, down from 9.7 million the year before.
Half of these deaths occurred in Africa, which remains the most difficult place in the world for a child to survive.
Africa is also the continent with the highest rate of maternal deaths, with women having a one in 26 lifetime chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. This is four times higher than in Asia and more than 300 times higher than in industrialized countries.
Veneman said 80 percent of maternal deaths are preventable if women have access to basic maternity and health care services.
In developing countries a woman has a 1-in-76 chance of dying due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth compared to 1-in-8,000 for women in industrialized countries.
Contrast that with what Bush said in his announcement of Sanctity of Life Day:
“All human life is a gift from our creator that is sacred, unique and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world,”
“The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent. My administration has been committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws, opposing federal funding for abortions overseas, encouraging teen abstinence and funding crisis pregnancy programs.”
Yeah. Cutting off health care to developing countries and pushing abstinence-until-marriage (even teenage marriage) has done wonders to affirm the lives of women and girls. His administration did absolutely nothing to prevent federal funding for abortion overseas — laws against federal funding of abortions abroad have been on the books for decades. What the Bush administration did do was remove health care funding from clinics that so much as mentioned abortion as an option — meaning that women and men around the world found their access to contraception, condoms, safer sex tools, HIV/AIDS treatment, sexual health information, well-baby care, pre-natal care, and STI care suddenly cut off. And they found themselves being told that the solution to HIV/AIDS is simply to hold off sex until marriage — despite the fact that for a lot of women, marriage is a major risk factor in contracting HIV (not to mention a potential risk for intimate partner violence and other abuses), and early marriage can mean early pregnancy, which can mean early death.
Women around the world need health care. They need basics, like access to clean water and nutritious food and safe housing. They don’t need sanctimonious “sanctity of life” days from leaders who have demonstrated again and again that women’s lives don’t matter, and that the “pro-life” commitment to life outside of the womb is virtually non-existant.
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