Mothers and children
BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, May 13, 2012
5/13/12 at 2:47 AM
In time for Mother's Day, the human rights group Save the Children released its annual report on the status of mothers and children worldwide. The United States ranked an inexcusable No. 25 among 164 countries but had improved six notches from 2011.
Progress is progress.
Save the Children ranked countries, not individual states, which spared Oklahoma from another bottom-feeder rating. Other sources, however, show Oklahoma approaches Third-World status on several well-being indicators. One child here is abused or neglected every hour; one child here dies before his first birthday every 19 hours; one child or teen here is killed by gunfire every eight days.
Oklahoma of course is not Niger, ranked last in the Save the Children report. Nearly the entire population of Niger lives in abject poverty. The West African nation is wracked by political strife, poor sanitation, insufficient clean water, rampant starvation and almost nonexistent health care.
While far too many Oklahoma children are poor, there is poverty and then there is Niger.
Yet, neither is Oklahoma much like Norway, rated No. 1 in mother-child well-being. Norway has a low infant mortality rate, universal health care, high life expectancy and little risk of persistent hunger.
Baby in the washer
Norwegians treat their children relatively well. Unlike Oklahoma, there aren't many stories about a local mother burning her child's private parts with a hair-straightening iron. Or, stories about some drugged-out mother sticking her infant in a washing machine to perish in gruesome fashion. How many Norwegian mothers have seven babies in 10 years and because of abuse and neglect have all those kids taken away by the state? How often do Norwegian authorities discover five small children living in a filthy home with no food but plenty of illegal drugs, and evidence of burns on the kids' bodies?
Norway has child abuse but I suspect it's more isolated and not representative of a broader subculture of mistreatment. Can we say the same in Oklahoma this Mother's Day?
What puts northern European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Iceland on top in the Save the Children rankings year after year can be summed up in one word: Survival.
Nordic nations enjoy the world's highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates largely because of universal health care, enough food and clean water. The developing nations evaluated in the report are not so fortunate, accounting for 60 percent of the world's under-5 population, and 83 percent of 10 million child deaths each year.
Had health care been available in those areas, more than six million children might still be alive. About one in 20 mothers in developing nations will die from pregnancy-related causes. In the Nordic countries, skilled health-care workers are present at virtually every birth. In Niger, only a third of births are attended by such professionals.
Save the Children defines basic health care as a package of life-saving interventions - prenatal care, skilled care at childbirth, immunizations and treatment for diarrhea and pneumonia.
On average, a Norwegian woman has 18 years of formal education and will live to be 83; 72 percent of women of child-bearing age use a modern method of contraception, and only one in 185 will lose a child before that child's fifth birthday.
In parts of Africa, parents often put off naming their infants in the first six weeks, fearing the baby will not survive. Four out of five families in the poorest, most war-torn regions of Africa will lose a child. One child in four dies before turning 5. Every mother in Niger is likely to lose at least one child. Only a fraction of women use modern contraception; women have fewer than three years' education and most women in Niger don't live past 45.
The U.S. has its own unacceptable health-care gaps for women and children. The gaps are glaring in a nation that spends the most money per capita on health care. Yet, the U.S. still has among the lowest levels of child safety and health care among developed nations. U.S. infant and child mortality rates are higher than in nearly any other industrialized nation.
Here at home, Oklahoma consistently ranks poorly among states in several indicators of child well-being. In the annual Kids Count report, Oklahoma came in 47th in its child death rate, 46th in the teen birth rate and 45th in its infant mortality rate. Nearly a quarter of Oklahoma's 920,000 children live in poverty - 35th in the U.S. At least 111,000 children have no health insurance. Many children do not live with either parent, a consequence of several factors, including incarceration. Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state. Absence of that parent is devastating for kids, manifesting itself in depression, suicide, poor academic performance and an increased risk of criminal behavior.
Oklahoma ranks 40th among states in the teen death rate and 42nd in the percent of teens not in school and not high school graduates.
Child abuse rates are legendary, or should I say notorious? It's criminal - literally - the way some Oklahomans treat their kids. I'd like to think these parents know better but I'm not so sure that they do.
In overall child vulnerability, Oklahoma has ranked near the bottom of the 50 states for years. Despite the tireless efforts of so many, we don't seem to get any better. There's always another horrifying washing-machine or hair-straightener-iron story in the headlines.
Third-World status for child well-being? Oklahoma's close.
Julie DelCour, 918-581-8379
Mothers and their babies suffering from malnutrition sit in a makeshift hospital in the town of Aguie, 43 miles from Maradi, Niger in 2005. Associated Press file
Miranda Bryant from Tulsa eats with her daughter Sarah Bryant, 8, and son, Ian Bryant, 6, at the Iron Gate in Tulsa. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World file