If all women in India had completed secondary education, the under-five mortality rate would be 61 per cent lower, UNESCO has said.

India and Nigeria account for more than a third of child deaths worldwide. If all women in both countries had completed secondary education, the under-five mortality rate would have been 61 per cent lower in India and 43 per cent lesser in Nigeria, saving 1.35 million children’s lives.

Simple solutions such as mosquito nets and clean water can prevent some of the worst child diseases, but only if mothers are taught to use them. Almost a quarter of child deaths in India are due to pneumonia and over one-tenth are due to diarrhoea, according to the WHO-UNICEF Report. The Education for All Global Monitoring Report’s new analysis shows that pneumonia could be reduced by 14 per cent if women had just one extra year of education. Diarrhoea would be reduced by eight per cent if all mothers completed primary education, and by 30 per cent if they had secondary education.

If all women had attended secondary school, they would know the nutrients that children need, the hygiene rules that they should follow and they also would have a stronger voice in the home to ensure proper care.

The analysis has been released in time for the UN General Assembly discussions on the post-2015 development agenda.

UNESCO’s new analysis proves that in South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, nearly three million girls are married by the age 15 years — below the legal age of marriage. If all young women completed primary education, the number of child brides would be reduced by almost half a million. Completing secondary education would reduce that number by two million. In these regions, 3.4 million young women give birth by the age of 17 years. If all young women completed primary schooling, this would result in 340,000 fewer early births, and if they all completed secondary education, the total would fall by two million.

Findings also show that a secondary, rather than a primary education, increases tolerance towards people of a different religion or those speaking a different language. In India, those with secondary education were 19 per cent less likely to express intolerance towards people speaking a different language compared with those with less than primary education.

If all women were equipped with just a primary education, maternal deaths would be cut by two-thirds, saving 189,000 women’s lives each year.

“The findings confirm more clearly than ever that education can transform lives and societies for the better,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. “The world’s education goals are very much an unfinished agenda, however, this new evidence should give us all renewed energy to complete what we set out to do,” she added.

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