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It’s harder for girls

As the global population reaches seven billion, the United Nations picked a handful of newborn babies to symbolise the milestone.

Among them are two girls, Nargis and Danica who were born in India and the Philippines.

It is impossible to tell how they will fare in life, but a recent report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) suggests life will be harder for them than the boys.

While they get much the same care and opportunities during early childhood, as they become teenagers there becomes a gaping difference between the standards of healthcare and education boys and girls experience.

And in the world’s poorest countries, that gap is widening, the report found.

“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,” said UNICEF’s Geeta Rao Gupta.

“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… are major barriers to the efforts of many nations to move out of long-term poverty and achieve their development aspirations,” she said.

If the world’s seven billionth child was a girl born in the developed world, perhaps in Europe, Japan or the United States, when she hits her teens, she is likely to get much the same opportunities as boys her age. Her education, health and career prospects could even look better than it would if she were a boy.

But if the same girl happened to be born in a poorer part of the world, she is more likely to be married while she’s still a child, less likely to be able to read and write than young men in her country and, alarmingly, if she was born in sub-Saharan Africa, she’d be as many as four times more likely to get HIV/Aids than boys her age.

A report by the World Bank has flagged up the economic impact of excluding girls from learning and work opportunities. For instance, the cost to India of the 3.8 million girls giving birth between the ages of 15 to 19 is $7.6 billion a year (£4.7 billion), the bank said – which is enough to fill every single car in the US with a full tank of petrol 100 times.

So as the seven billionth person makes waves across the global media, UNICEF is pressing developing countries to improve the education prospects for their girls. It says making good long-term schooling for girls more available will have a ‘ripple effect’ and help break the cycle of poverty.

Hayley attribution