National shame: Why is India still abandoning her daughters?

Among the BRICS countries which recently met in Brazil, India stood out for the worst socio-economic indicators. From literacy to life expectancy, India was at the bottom of the table while claiming to be an emerging economy of the world.

On Tuesday, a new UN report has found one more reason for India to be ashamed of — its worsening child sex ratio or the ratio of girls to boys. "The sharply declining child sex ratio in India has reached emergency proportions and urgent action must be taken to alleviate this crisis," said the report published by UN Women and UNFPA. Worse still is the fact that India has been amongst the very few countries in the world, along with neighbouring Nepal and China, where the infant mortality rate for girls is worse than for boys.

 National shame: Why is India still abandoning her daughters?

Representational image. AFP

The report titled ‘Sex Ratios and Gender Biased Sex Selection: History, Debates and Future Directions,” takes a holistic view of the issue in the country within its historical context.

The study shows that the sex ratio in the country has deteriorated from from 976 girls to 1000 boys in 1961, to 927 girls in 2001; and to 918 girls in 2011, when biologically girl children are more likely to survive than boys and the country has made constant strides in other spheres of development.

Obviously, it demonstrates the skewed preference for boys over girls and the reasons could be simple abandonment of the girl children and sex selection. Interestingly, the study notes that even the planning of a family with one son and one daughter is not as simple as it appears: “even the stated preference of one son and one daughter needs to be interpreted with care – in my view families are actually ‘planning’ to have at least one son and at most one daughter,” says the author Mary John.

As Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women and Assistant Secretary General of the UN notes, this trend of worsening child sex ratio demonstrates that the economic and social progress in the country has had minimum bearing on the status of women and daughters in our society.

Getting into the details of the sex ratio, within the historical context, the study says that the sex ratios in the country, taken as a whole in the last half century, declined slightly from 946 in 1951 to 927 in 1991. When the provisional results of census 2011 were initially released, the all india child sex ratio publicised was 914; however, the final population figures since put out by the Registrar General’s office have been upwardly revised to 918, making for a 9 point decline from 2001 compared to that of 18 points in the previous decade.

As of 2001, the worst sex ratios were to be found in the north and west (Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Chandigarh (UT) Uttar Pradesh; and Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh). Jammu and Kashmir has been anomalous and the figures needed further probing, especially for 2011.

Comparatively, the east, south and north-east displayed better averages. In 2011, this picture has changed to reveal a new kind of difference between the worst states and the rest of India. Several states, such as Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh now show small improvements from their prior low levels – but declines are now visible in large parts of India in 2011, of which states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra in the west, certain eastern states along with Andhra Pradesh in the south have significant declines. Therefore it has been speculated that while the severity of the practice of sex selection may have peaked in those regions where it was at its worst, it has now spread much more widely, if more thinly, across the country.

The solution is to address the underlying socio-economic reasons such as unequal inheritance rights, dowry, unequal socio-religious status, unpaid work, unequal pay, lack of economic opportunities for women, focus on male lineage, a culture of honour that places a greater burden of safety and protection on the parents of girls.

These factors contribute to building a society that favours sons and men, and neglects daughters and women. Unless this trend changes, India will continue to be in this pitiful condition. As Lise Grande, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in India notes, when it comes to gender biased sex selection, entire social structures including those linked to work, marriage and community need to change and the root causes of son preference, acknowledged and fought.”

Updated Date: Jul 24, 2014 07:23:59 IST