China and India -- two of the fastest growing economies of the world -- also share another dubious distinction.
According to a new World Bank report, released on Monday, more than 1.3 million girls are not born in China and India every year because of overt discrimination and preference for the male child. Globally, the two emerging economies along with Sub-Saharan Africa account for 87 % of the total 3.9 million 'missing' girls (killed before they are born) and excess female mortality.
While 'missing' girls at birth are concentrated in India and China, maternal mortality rates are the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, there were 640 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births - the only region where the numbers are going up over time.
In India, the report titled World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development says, the phenomenon of missing girls was initially concentrated in the northern belt but gradually spread south, in China it spread inland from the eastern coast.
It attributes three main reasons for the increase in number of unborn girls in the late 20th century. "First, fertility started dropping as female education and the returns to it in the labour force increased, in China, the one-child policy reduced fertility. Second, ultrasound became widely available. Thirdly, the preference for sons remained unchanged," the report states.
Discrimination by parents towards girls in countries like China, north India, Pakistan and Afghanistan has been the reason which caused excess mortality among girls during infancy and early childhood.
However, on the positive side, the report notes that even in regions with the largest remaining gender gaps like South Asia, there have been considerable gains in girl's education. "In the last decade, female enrollments have grown faster than male enrollments in South Asia. In 2008, there were about 95 girls for every 100 boys in primary school in the region," the report states.
Gender equality, the report states, is not only crucial for development but is smart economics as countries that provides opportunities and condition for women and girls can raise productivity and advance development prospects for all.