Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Canada the 15th best country to be a mother

Updated Tue. May. 8 2007 10:20 AM ET

CTV.ca News Staff

Save The Children has released its eighth annual State of the World's Mothers report, ranking 140 countries on the wellbeing of their mothers and children. And Canada ranks 15th, well behind first-place Sweden.

The United States finished 26th, and at the bottom of the list were Niger, Sierra Leone and Yemen.

Save The Children President and CEO David Morley says his organization used a number of criteria to create their rankings, including: early childhood education; the support given to moms who want to stay home with their children; and health services for young children.

"We take all of those and that helps build the net around mothers and young children to support the survival and the strong development of children under the age of five," Morley told Canada AM Monday.

Morley adds he's not surprised that Sweden is at the top of the list.

"Sweden has very strong social systems," he says. "They have long maternity leaves so mothers can stay at home for a long time with their young children.

"And also, they've got excellent early childhood education. So those are the two real mainstays in wealthy countries to make it possible for children to have that strong development -- so that mothers can really be mothers."

Morley adds that while Canada is well ahead of many countries by providing up to 50 weeks of maternity and parental benefits to new mothers, it still lags behind many countries in Europe.

"In Scandinavia, in Europe, they have much better maternity benefits than we do," he says.

"There are times when it's possible to stay at home for two years to be able to look after your children," he says.

And then there's the early childhood education, which lays the strong foundations for children as they grow up, experts say.

"Here in Canada ... maternity benefits are better than they were 15 years ago, but it's not up to the standards of Europe," Morley says.

Morley adds, though, that the difference between mothers in Canada and mothers in Europe are small compared to the vast difference between mothers here and in the countries at the bottom of his organization's list.

The worst place to be a mother is in sub-Saharan Africa, Morley says. There, many mothers have no access to medical care when they give birth, they have inadequate health care, vaccinations and nutrition for their children, and they have poor or no access to education.

"Those are all things that lead to the terrible situation for so many mothers and children," Morley says.

The infant mortality rate in many of these countries is also still disturbingly high. A mother in Angola, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Zambia, for example, can expect to lose one child before they become adults, and a mother in Niger can expect to lost two.

The leading causes of death among children under five are newborn disorders, pneumonia and diarrhea - all preventable or treatable with low-cost basic interventions.

"In fact, this year, ten million children under the age of five are going to die from preventable causes. And that's just outrageous.

"And that's part of why we raise this report, not only to look at what can be done better in the wealthy countries but to show what's happening to so many children and mothers around the world."

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