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Soc Sci Med. 1988;27(6):627-36.

The effect of child fostering on feeding practices and access to health services in rural Sierra Leone.

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Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208.


In Sierra Leone, where infant and child mortality rates are quite high, a large proportion of small children from 1 to 5 yr are fostered: living away from their mothers. This paper examines the relationships between fosterage and child feeding practices and children's access to Western medical care. Ethnographic data from field studies in Sierra Leone are combined with quantitative data from Serabu Hospital, which show that fostered children are underrepresented in hospital admissions and that young fosters present more problems of malnutrition. (Fostered girls appear to be at more risk in both these categories than boys.) Unlike young fosters, however, older ones do not appear to be at more risk than children with mothers. We draw connections between these results and patterns of intra-household discrimination in food allocation and access to medical treatment for young fostered children: especially those sent to elderly rural caretakers. Finally, we examine the implications of the findings for applied issues, arguing that fostered children may slip through the cracks of maternal-child health care programs.

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