From Sun Sep 24 14:29:37 2000
Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2000 23:35:50 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: POPULATION-CENTRAL AMERICA: Marked by Inequality
Article: 105385
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Marked by Inequality

By Néfer Muñoz, IPS, 21 September 2000

SAN JOSE, Sep 21 (IPS)—Belize, Costa Rica and Panama post the best indicators of development in Central America, a region marked by inequality between, and within, countries, reported the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

We are paying a very high price for inequality, said UNFPA representative in Costa Rica, Patricia Salgado, at the presentation of the 'State of the World Population 2000' report Wednesday.

Salgado said the pervasive inequality, and the gender gap in particular, were holding up the development of individuals, communities and countries in this region of 36.3 million.

Illiteracy stands at five percent among men and four percent among women in Costa Rica, compared to 24 and 40 percent in Guatemala, 26 percent for both men and women in Honduras, and 33 and 30 percent in Honduras, UNFPA reported.

The UN agency estimates that by 2025, the population of Central America will have climbed to 58.3 million—in other words, a 60 percent increase in just a quarter century.

This situation is of concern to us, because population growth is closely linked to the expansion of poverty, Salgado told IPS. To the extent that we are able to stabilise population growth, we will be in a better position to tackle our shortcomings.

She stressed the need for educational and media consciousness- raising campaigns on sexual and reproductive rights in the region, because aware and informed people tend to have less children.

While 95 percent of the inhabitants of Belize and Panama say they are familiar with birth-control methods, nearly 30 percent of Guatemalans are unfamiliar with contraceptives.

But other experts highlight different priorities in the region. Before focusing on curbing population growth in Central America, our leaders should seek to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth, Julio Varela, director of the Costa Rican National University's Institute of Social Studies on the Population, told IPS.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) officials have also pointed to the enormous social gaps between the various countries in Central America, as well as within each country.

An estimated 80 percent of the population of Nicaragua is affected by poverty, while 50 percent live in extreme poverty, compared to 20 percent living in poverty in Costa Rica.

The UNFPA report confirms that education remains one of the region's most pressing problems. Secondary school enrollment stands at 61 percent in Panama, and just 45 percent in Honduras.

This study underlines that we still have many pending challenges, one of which is the phenomenon of the 'feminisation' of poverty, Grace Prada, director of the women's studies masters programme at the National University of Costa Rica, remarked to IPS.

Women are victims of the prevalent economic, labour and social system in Central America, reflected by a gap between the wages earned by men and women, as well as women's limited access to quality social services, said Prada.

According to the report, of every 1,000 women, 115 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 have given birth in Honduras, and 119 in Guatemala. Most of the teenage mothers were not attended by medical practitioners while they gave birth.

Unsafe abortions, meanwhile, are the cause of nearly half of all maternal deaths in Latin America as a whole, the report adds.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, only Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guyana have laws authorising the interruption of a pregnancy on the request of an expectant mother. In Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador and Chile, abortion is a criminal offence no matter what the circumstances.

However, the report highlights Honduras' spectacular reduction of maternal mortality from 1990 to 1997, after the government made a renewed commitment to health care for women.

Increased funding enabled the Honduran Health Ministry to expand the availability of emergency obstetric services in rural and urban clinics and hospitals, increase the number of health practitioners posted in remote parts of the country, equip birthing rooms in areas of difficult access, and boost prenatal care capacities in health centres.

Thanks to those efforts, maternal mortality was cut in half, from 0.26 to 0.13 per 100,000 women of child-bearing age.