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While in the rest of the world, women outnumber men by three to five per cent, in India there are seven per cent more men than women and the number of females continues to decline, says a new book. Neither education nor affluence has brought any significant change in the attitudes towards women. In fact, the increase in the deficit of young girls noticed in the 1981, 1991 and 2001 censuses was indicative of a strong possibility that thetraditional methods of neglect of female children were being increasingly replaced by not allowing female children to be
born, the book, Sex-selective Abortion in India. Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, says.
The sex ratio figure in 1921 of 972 women in India for every 1000 men and its decline to 933 in 2001 questions the relationship between social development and sex ratio, the book edited by Tulsi Patel, a Professor in Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, says.
Internationally speaking, socially as well as economically advanced societies have shown a sex ratio favourable to the female.
In 80 percent of India’s districts, a higher proportion of boys are born every year than a decade ago as a result of the growing availability of fetal sex- testing services, the study showed. The imbalance in gender ratio has become especially noticeable in the India’s wealthier regions, where couples can easily afford to pay for an ultrasound examination.
The Indian government expressed alarm at the report, describing the results as unexpected.
“It was a surprise because there is so much awareness being generated about the need to cherish the girl child,” said Deepa Jain Singh, secretary to the Ministry of Women and Child Development. “We have to address this in a big way. We have no option.”
Report: The State of the World’s Children 2007 (unicef.org)
The Unicef findings are based on an analysis of Indian census data and are in line with a study published by the British medical journal The Lancet earlier this year, which estimated that as many as 10 million female fetuses had been aborted in India over the past 20 years by families trying to secure a male heir.
Published as part of Unicef’s annual State of the World’s Children report, the study details a troubling trend: gender- based abortion is accelerating in the more developed, richer regions of India. In the prosperous northern state of Punjab in 2001, there were 799 girls born for every thousand boys, down from 875 in 1991. In the neighboring state of Haryana, also one of India’s richest, there were 823 girls per thousand boys, down from 879.
“Normally whenever there is development, economic progress and technological progress, you expect there to be progress in other areas,” said Kul Gautam, Unicef’s deputy executive director. “What is unusual here is that development and progress on other fronts are associated with this terrible, retrogressive phenomenon which is actually getting worse.”
Even after birth, girls are at much higher risk of childhood death than boys. Female babies are less likely to survive the first year than their male counterparts, according to Unicef’s infant mortality research.
“After birth, son-preference continues to persist leading to the neglect of girls and their lack of access to nutrition, health and maternal care in these critical early years,” the report said.
Campaigners warn that the declining number of girls will cause severe social problems in the future, when young Indian men find there are not enough women to go around.
“This will cause a strain to the country’s social fabric,” Jain Singh said.
It has been illegal for Indian doctors to reveal the sex of an unborn baby to its parents since 1994, but the law is widely flouted â€” either explicitly or through coded hints, like pink candies handed out after an examination to indicate girls, blue sweets for boys.
A doctor was jailed earlier this year after being filmed while telling a pregnant woman that she was carrying a “female fetus and it would be taken care of,” but successful prosecutions in such cases are rare.
In India, girls continue to be regarded as liabilities who saddle their parents with the costs of expensive weddings and dowry payments, before moving to live with their husband’s family.
Boys are preferred because, traditionally, they remain in the family home to look after the parents in their old age. Neither laws nor the government’s “Save the Girl Child” campaign have had much impact in changing these perceptions.