10/09/2012, 00.00
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More than half of children die in the first month of birth if the mother is illiterate

by Nirmala Carvalho
A government study focuses on the problem. Post-natal mortality in the first month of birth drops to 20 per cent for women with a grade 12 education or more. Berlyn Fernandes, who heads a Mumbai kindergarten, notes that "education reduces the dangers of malnutrition and anaemia, and increases the likelihood that women will go to the hospital or health centres in case of emergency."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - A child born to an illiterate mother in India has a 65 per cent chance of dying in the first month of birth, 49 per cent within a year, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) reports in a study title Infant and Child Mortality in India - Level Trends and Determinants. By contrast, the government agency found that post-neonatal mortality rate in the first month drops to 20 per cent, and 8 per cent within a year, for women with 12 years or more of formal education.

Berlyn Fernandes, head of the Tree House childcare facility in Mumbai, agrees. A mother's education is "absolutely important" for a child's development, especially in a patriarchal society like India's that tends to marginalise women.

"Women are the last ones to read, write and eat. If the amount of food available is less, it would first be made available to the man of the house," Fernandes told AsiaNews. "Malnutrition and the lack of a balanced diet in pregnant women have an impact on infant mortality because the foetus is deprived of nutrition to develop." Fernandes has a Master Degree in Early Childhood Studies at the Roehampton University (London).

In fact, the National Family Health Survey for 2005-2006 found that about half of pregnant women in India are anaemic. To counter this, "The role of education cannot be over stressed," Fernandes explained.

An educated woman will pay attention to what she eats. If she is pregnant, she will routinely check her "haemoglobin level [. . .] at health centres." She will also know when something requires an immediate trip to the nearest emergency room.

Illiteracy also comes with superstitions, early marriage and poor hygienic conditions.

"Numerous studies found that women consume little or no extra food during pregnancy," Fernandes noted. They "may even consciously limit their intake in the fear of developing large foetuses that would make labour more difficult, given small pelvic sizes."


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