Study ranks south worst in the world for women and children

After 21 years of civil war, southern Sudan ranks worst in the world for many key indicators of the wellbeing of women and children, including rates of chronic malnutrition, immunisation, antenatal care and primary school completion, according to a new study.

With net enrolment in schools at only 20 percent, southern Sudanese children have the least access to primary education in the world, according to the study, conducted by the New Sudan Centre for Statistics and Evaluation (NSCSE), in association with UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

[The NSCSE is a technical wing of the de facto government of southern Sudan, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.]

The study, entitled "Towards a Baseline: Best estimates of Social Indicators for Southern Sudan", says only one in five children of school age attends class, while three times more boys are at school than girls.

The report will be posted at www.unsudanig.org

Only 2 percent of children, or one out of every 50, finish primary school, which is the lowest rate in the world, says the report. With a population of 7.5 million, this means that only 500 girls and 2,000 boys finish every year.

Moreover, a girl born in southern Sudan is far more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than she is to complete primary school: one in nine women die in pregnancy or childbirth while only one in 100 girls finishes primary school.

These and many other key statistics on demographics, literacy, child and maternal mortality, health, nutrition, water and sanitation are documented for the first time in the report, which also reviews surveys conducted during recent years and compares them with figures from neighbouring countries and the rest of Sudan.

A formal census would be conducted during the interim period following the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement, and this would provide a baseline for planning and monitoring social progress, said UNICEF in a press release. Until then, the statistics contained in the report would provide "a much-needed starting point" for planning future national and international assistance, which was expected to grow massively during the six-year interim period.

As the government of Sudan and the SPLM drew closer to signing a comprehensive peace agreement, UNICEF said it had urged donors, NGOs, southern Sudanese and the de facto governing authorities in southern Sudan to make children's survival and development their top priority.

"We know we can make huge improvements in the lives of Sudanese children if the peace process is a success. This generation might be the lucky ones," commented Bernt Aasen, the UNICEF chief of operations for southern Sudan.