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More girls than boys denied education: UNICEF

By Anand Parthasarathy

Geneva Dec. 13. There are 120 million children out there, outside the reach of the education system and most of them are girls, UNICEF says in its flagship report on the State of the World's Children 2004, released here today. In a canny move, the release was done right in the middle of the on-going U.N.-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), underlining the Executive Director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy's caution: "Internet has great potential, but it is of no use if people cannot read and write."

To add poignancy and a touch of immediacy to UNICEF s concern, Ms. Bellamy was flanked by 15-year-old Cairo Shamim from Uganda and 14-year-old Abid Ali from Pakistan. They explained how they strived in their own way to reduce the gender divide in education in their hometowns.

The report examines indicators such as health, education, nutrition, infant mortality, HIV to rank India number 53 among 193 nations when a critical factor — under-5 infant mortality is considered. Details reveal under-5 mortality in India has fallen sharply from 242 in 1960, to 123 in 1990, to 93 in 2002. In primary school enrolments in the period 1997 to 2000, there were 78 boys for every 64 girls — which makes for a better situation than many African countries where less than 25 percent of the girls go to school.

Later, talking to The Hindu, Ms. Bellamy said UNICEF was aware of the problem in India about female infanticide but was confident that the Government was working quickly to counter it. "This is one of the areas where high technology can be misused," she felt.

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