Motherhood is considered to be a highly demanding, if not rewarding task, wherever one lives in the world. But for many in developing countries, being a mother can mean a daily struggle against disease, malnutrition and poverty.
The startling disparity of conditions is revealed today in a report in which Niger has been named as the worst place in the world to bear children.
The West African nation is one of the poorest countries on the planet and has now replaced Afghanistan at the foot of Save the Children's annual "State of the World's Mothers" ranking.
The index compares conditions for mothers in 165 countries, looking at factors such as education, economic status, mother's health and the health and wellbeing of the child. Of the 10 countries at the bottom of the index, seven are currently facing a food crisis, with Niger at the epicentre of a developing emergency that is threatening the lives of up to a million children. Norway topped the list as the best place to be a mother, while Britain was tenth.
The most severe problem faced by mothers in the poorest parts of the world was malnutrition. The report cited it as the underlying cause of at least a fifth of maternal deaths and more than a third of child deaths globally.
Brendan Cox, Save the Children's director of policy, said: "The [report] shows clearly that this crisis of chronic malnutrition has devastating effects on both mothers and their children.
"We urgently need global leadership on malnutrition that results in key nutrition projects being rolled out for mothers and babies to ensure their health and survival."
The charity also noted that more than 80 countries in the developing world had reported stunted growth in 20 per cent or more of their children. Thirty of these countries had what were considered to be "very high" stunting rates of 40 per cent or more.
The report comes ahead of this month's summit of leaders of the G8 group of industrialised nations, in which food security will top the agenda.
President Barack Obama has invited four African leaders to join the summit at Camp David in Maryland. They are Benin's President Yayi Boni, Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, President John Mills of Ghana and President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies