HONG KONG—China has been given a ranking of 18 out of 77 developing countries in a survey of the best places in the world to be a mother, the charity Save the Children said in a recent report.
Compiled from indices on women's and children's health and well-being, the Mothers' Index shows that providing mothers with access to education, economic opportunities, and maternal and child health care gives them and their children the best chance to survive and thrive.
"Of course it's not a great cause for celebration we came 18th out of 77 countries," said Song Meiya, senior editor at the official China Women's News.
"China has been developing at a pretty fast rate economically by international standards, so it seems as if women's health hasn't really kept pace with the overall economy," she said.
Song said the sheer size of China and the complexity of its population, including a large proportion of migrant workers, means that there are large disparities in care.
"There are great big gaps [in wealth], especially in the central and western regions," she said.
"Looking at the situation now, we are still a developing country. I think that this is an objective reality."
Broad change sought
Women's rights activist Wang Lihong said China won't be able to address women's rights until it brings about wider political and social change.
"You might leave your house one morning, and it will be demolished without your consent," Wang said.
"Li Shulian is a mother, 57 years old. She was pushed out naked into the street because she was a petitioner, and then she was hounded to death."
"If society can get to this state, full of violence and anger and everybody going crazy, then how are we to protect mothers?"
Xu Rong, who heads a nongovernment project aimed at boosting literacy among rural Chinese women, said China still needs to fully implement policies to protect the rights of its huge population of migrant workers.
"[The government] should implement policies that confer every possible aspect of social security," she said. "The area they need to be working on is the labor insurance sector."
"There is also a need to control the loss of land in rural areas, because the basic problems of existence are still pretty tough for the migrant population."
Scandinavia best region
According to Save the Children, Norway is the best place to be a mother, followed by Australia, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark.
New Zealand, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany follow closely behind, while Afghanistan is the worst place to be a mother.
Other countries in the bottom 10 places included Niger, Chad, Yemen, Mali, and Sudan.
The United States ranks 28th out of developed countries, down from 27 in 2009, with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.
"The U.S. also ranks behind many other wealthy nations in terms of the generosity of maternity leave policies," Save the Children said in a statement on its Web site.
Original reporting in Mandarin by He Ping. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.