A girl child brings joy, she is no less than a boy.-Prince Carter
India continues to experience a drastic fall in the child sex ratio (CSR), calculated as the number of girls per 1000 boys in the 0-6 age group. The decline is widespread across the country, and has expanded to rural and tribal areas as well. Child sex ratio reflects both, pre-birth discrimination manifested through gender biased sex selection, and post birth discrimination against girls. Skewed sex ratios can have far-reaching adverse social consequences. As evidence from regions with sex ratio imbalances indicate, it could contribute to increased violence against women, trafficking, increase in practices such as polyandry and overall rise in crime and general social disorder.
This chart should tell the story:
The difference might look small in the chart, but that is 30-40 Million girlsmissing. That is twice the population of Australia.
In terms of absolute numbers:
Simply put, there aren’t enough girls in our country, and this will have a wide variety of problems in the future when the 0-19 age group moves on to the 25-39 age group. It is going to screw up productivity, fertility ratios, and the country as a whole. This is a brief summary of the problem, now let’s focus on solutions.
Popular theories blame skewed sex ratios on:
The demographics are pretty complex. For instance, Kerala has one of the best sex ratios in India, and one instant observation would be that Kerala has a literacy rate of 97%. Does literacy translate into a definite factor? There are more than 4 states with high literacy rates that have low sex ratios. No go.
A similar case can be made for poverty. Tamil Nadu has skewed sex ratio demographics, but the poverty rate is low. Same goes for Punjab and Haryana. So this is not a factor too.
There is also a attempt at linking the Hindu ritual of “shard” or last rites with female foeticide. This is a flimsy reason at best, though let’s not eliminate it as a reason completely.
Female foeticide varies by region, population density and a lot of things that cannot be quantified. Understanding the problem is difficult.
Some solutions that have been tried:
Cradle Baby Scheme – since early 80s: A couple can give up the baby for adoption anonymously instead of killing the baby. Only about 100-150 babies a year are rescued this way, others die in foetus or get killed anyway. Stats unknown as to what percentage of babies are rescued. Though the program is gender neutral, i.e. any baby can be given up for adoption, girls:boys ratio is about 7:1. The other challenges faced are that after the babies are rescued, funding is woefully inadequate. State allocates 5 million a year for each center or about 6400Rs ($130) per kid a year. That is less than 50 cents a day. Only about 3% of the kids get adopted – either by Non Resident Indians or by some other means. The remaining grow up in a life of substandard education, medical care and no future prospects. They mostly end up as tailors working in garment factories or in the “less skilled” sector. Result: mixed bag.
- Elimination of sex prediction practices: Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act,1994 forms the crux of this fight against sex prediction. A clinic or hospital or doctor involved in a sex prediction and selection can have their license revoked and be imprisoned. But every year about 4 or 5 of these clinics get convicted of doing this, and by conviction rates, there must be tens of these clinics running, if not hundreds. Result: Fail
- Financial Incentives/awareness: The GoI has tried various means such as “Year of the girl child” in the 90s, “beti Bachao” in early 200s and the “Jagoo maa jagoo” under Sushma Swaraj with Sania Mirza as the “Brand Ambassador” in ’04 and several other means. Most of these have received minimal attention. The change in sex-ratio has not been positive. Results: inconclusive/unknown.
- Most of these are because the birth is not registered and the delivery is done by alternative/traditional health workers. Issuing a birth certificate immediately, prosecuting the alternative healers who help with the foeticide/pregnancy would be a good place to start as a short term measure.
- All parties responsible for the murder should be brought to justice. This involves everyone who knew about the pregnancy but never reported a missing baby. Poverty, malnutrition etc are not excuses for killing. Justice should be swift for these lost souls without voices.
- Better health care: Alternative healers exist because there is no access to health care in the remote corners of India. Better access to facilities combined with the measures suggested above can be long term measures.
- Better forensics: sadly, there are no facilities/personnel to conduct a proper autopsy to determine the actual cause of death and this is a reason why some criminals get away
- These are laws and measures, but society must wake up to the problem at hand.
List of Laws/Constitutional guarantees that are relevant here:
- Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques(Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act,1994
- Pre-Conception And Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of sex selection) Act 2002
- Medical Termination of pregnancy Act, 1971
- Article 21 of the Constitution – right to live
- Article 14 of the Constitution – right to equality
Finally let’s acknowledge that there is something wrong with the perception of women in India. Our whole country worship female deities and proudly preach about equality in ancient societies and female gurus. But in practice, all these arguments fall flat on the face.
The problems are much more deeply rooted in society and laws cannot solve the problem. Unless the misogyny is reduced to a certain extent and Indians see the women next to them as equals and peers, this astonishingly persistent problem cannot be solved.
By: Tarun Budhwani