Not only are the poor and uneducated neglecting and eliminating the girl child , the rich and the educated also continue to murder their daughters (in the womb). No wonder the girl child is missing! This is the grim picture that emerges from the recent census 2011 data which shows that there are only 919 girls against 1000 boys in the age group of 0-6 years reflecting a huge shortfall of thousands of girls (difference between the number of girls and boys in the said age group) in the country. Though the over all sex ratio in the country has improved from 933 in 2001 to 940 in 2011, shockingly the child sex ratio (CSR) has witnessed a free fall ever since 1961 when it stood at 976/1000.
Disturbing and alarming trends come in to light when we analyze the census data. Though there has been a slight improvement in the child ratio in Punjab and Haryana, these states continue to be at the lowest end of the ladder, the child sex ratios being 845 and 834 respectively. In Jammu and Kashmir the ratio has fallen precipitously to 859 from 941 in 2001, making it to be the third worst state after Haryana and Punjab. What essentially was earlier a North India phenomenon of a few states is spreading like virus to the rest of the country (states and union territories put together numbering 27 have recorded decline in the girl child ratio in the past decade).The ‘good South’ and ‘bad North’ divide is being blurred as the states down the Vindhyas, whether Andhra Pradesh and Karnatka have started showing the declining trend. Puducherry and even Kerela have joined the rest of the country in the down hill race (though registered a marginal decline).
Particularly frightening is the fall in CSR in Maharashtra, 883 down from 913 in 2001.It is indeed disturbing that the ‘missing girl syndrome’ has crept into the tribal dominated North -Eastern states as well, the areas which have traditionally been unaffected by this malady. Except for Mizoram, all other north eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim, Manipur and Tripura have shown the declining sex ratio. The phenomenon of ‘daughter elimination’ and ‘daughter discrimination’ has pan India presence; transcending all geographical boundaries. No wonder the problem has reached epidemic proportions!
Undoubtedly, it is the strong gender bias, where boys are regarded as assets and girls a liability, is the root cause of the skewed child sex ratio. In fact the unholy alliance between the tradition (son craze) and the technology (ultra sound) has led to the selection of the wanted (son) and rejection of the unwanted (daughter). Sadly the female infanticide of yester years has been replaced by the female foeticide. Despite the legislation banning it, pre-natal sex determination continues with impunity leading to sex selective abortions. Rather, the technology is now available more cheaply and easily in small towns and even in villages. Portable ultra sound machines can be loaded in a car and taken to remote places. Undoubtedly, it is the rampant misuse of technology which is the primary cause of the acute imbalance in child sex ratio.
There is strong ‘son preference’ in all communities cutting across socio-economic background. In the poor families there is sheer neglect of girls. They are often discriminated -less food, less health care, less affection leading to higher mortality rate. But the discrimination is not limited to poor and rural rather the gender bias continues to be strong among the rich and the educated as well. Education and prosperity, it seems, have not changed the mind set of the people. Look at the abysmally low child sex ratio in the national capital region Delhi (866), Chandigarh (867) and Mumbai (874), much below the national average of 914. The regions which are supposed to be progressive and prosperous have recorded one of the lowest sex ratios in country. Sadly prosperity seems to be reinforcing regressive attitudes. Also as people become more literate, they do not become more gender friendly. For the urban educated, family planning is not just limiting the size of family but choosing the sex of the baby. With affluence comes the power to determine the sex of the child. Without bothering about the socio-ethical aspects of sex selection, rich want smaller families which eventually lead to elimination of girls and selection of boys. A recent research paper published in journal Lancet shows that sex ratio for the second born children in families with girls has dropped significantly from 906 girls for 1000 boys in 1991 to 836 in 2005.The corresponding decline is more pronounced for the richest 20% from 850 to 750 during the same period.
The dismal girl child ratio, which is a matter of shame and grave concern for the nation has far reaching social ramifications. The skewed CSR in the present will translate into unbalanced population structure in the future. The larger imbalance today implies bigger problems down the road .Going by the simple principles of demand and supply, the price of a commodity tends to rise with the fall in supply. But the same does not apply in case of women and the complex social forces governing their status. The real life experience does not show any rise in the status of women with the decline in their number. On the contrary the crime and violence against women might have gone up. The dwindling number of girls in the past two decades is manifesting itself in the shortage of prospective brides in the pockets of Punjab and Haryana. This problem is akin to the ‘barren branches’ in China where men find it hard to find brides for themselves, especially the ones with low income and little education. India too will have to grapple with the legacy of missing girls as China which is facing a huge gender imbalance because of the age-old gender bias combined with its ‘one child’ policy.
Though the central law banning the pre natal sex determination was passed in 1994 and amended in 2003 but due to the official apathy, the law has been rendered toothless. Despite the gross violation of the act, the conviction rate is negligible. The problem is that the client and the service provider are hand in gloves. Undoubtedly we need stricter enforcement of the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act but the law is really not enough to deal with what is essentially a social problem in India. It is time for all of us to wake up to fight for the girl child because it is not the govt. alone that can solve the problem. We need concerted multi-pronged action only then we can correct the worrisome trend of declining CSR. We need to involve the civil society in the state wide campaign to save the girl child. Religious and social leaders can play an important role in changing the mind set of the people.
Disturbing inverse correlation between the child sex ratio and economic prosperity comes into light when we analyze the census data. The poor have better CSR because they do not have access to the dubious use of technology. For the son craving, the poor keep on expanding their families which comes at the cost of population control. On the other hand, the decline in fertility among the rich and the educated has been at the cost of the balanced child sex ratio. The rich desire small family but son is ‘must’ leading to skewed child sex ratio.
We need to understand that where as population control is essential for economic development; balanced sex ratio is critical to the social wellbeing. Unless there is change in the mind set of the people, the country will be caught between the devil and the deep sea and achieving the twin objectives of population control and balanced sex ratio will be a distant possibility.
Published in New Horizons, A research Journal of MCM DAV College
Volume IX 2012