Let the Little Boys Die – Reaction to the 2012 World Development Report

The 2012 World Development Report has a stat that the World Bank is mighty proud of. I’ll let Bank President, Robert Zoellick tell the story:

Imagine if a city of almost four million people disappeared every year. A Los Angeles, Johannesburg, Yokohama. It would be hard to miss.

 Yet it goes largely unnoticed that almost four million girls and women “go missing” each year in developing countries.

It’s a shocking statistic. For comparison, AIDS and TB each kill around 1.7 million people a year – malaria a million. So why are so many women missing? What’s happening to them? And what does the Bank want to do about it?

Burrow into the report and the total drops a bit – to 3.882 million. A third of the ‘missing’ are from China, 30% from Sub-Saharan Africa, and 22% from India. The two big rising powers and the countries of the world’s poorest region clearly have some questions to answer.

The initial analysis follows a well-trodden path. According to the Bank, the largest group, 37%, are ‘missing at birth’. This is largely a problem for China and India (95% of missing baby girls). Many parents in these countries want sons rather than daughters, and are prepared to use ultrasound and abortion to make sure they get them.

It’s when we move onto infant mortality that the WDR gets into trouble. 617,000 of the missing (16% of the total) are girls who die before the age of 5, it reports. These girls die in much larger numbers than their brothers because they are neglected by their parents and are starved of healthcare by the prejudiced societies into which they have the misfortune to be born. Right?

Well no, not at all, as it happens.

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