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Indian women continue to face pressure to produce a male child, according to a government survey released Wednesday. 

Of female respondents who identified themselves as married with two living children, nearly 90 percent say they don’t want more children if they have at least one son, but that number falls to about 62 percent if the women have two girls, according to the National Family Health Survey. 

In some states, such as underdeveloped Bihar, 80 percent of women with two daughters and no sons said they wanted to have another child, the survey said. 

Women face great social pressure to produce a male child in this nation where the cultural preference for boys is rooted in the custom of dowry, with families often going into debt to provide gifts for the groom’s family. 

“We still have much to do to reduce the discrimination against girls and in tackling this son preference,” said A.K. Shiv Kumar, a development economist and an adviser to UNICEF. 

The data revealed that India’s social indicators are dragging – mostly due to poor access to health care and information – even as the country shows strong economic growth. India’s economy is likely to expand by 9.2 percent in the fiscal year that ends in March. 

In an indication that women lack adequate legal protection, nearly 45 percent of married women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before India’s legal age of 18, the survey showed. Families still arrange most Indian marriages, especially when the couple marries young. 

Also, 16 percent of women surveyed between the ages of 15 and 19 said they were pregnant at the time of the survey. The data shows that rural women get pregnant much younger than those in urban areas. 

Kumar added that the numbers highlighted the low priority health care had in policy planning. India allocates just 2 percent of its federal government spending to health related costs, compared with 16 percent in a developed nation such as France, according to UNICEF data. 

The first set of data was released earlier this month and showed that almost half of India’s children suffered from malnutrition, putting the country in the same league as Burkina Faso and Cambodia. 

Wednesday’s additional data showed that nearly 80 percent of Indian children between 6 months and 35 months suffered from anemia. 

The survey – the third conducted since 1992-93 – was conducted through face-to-face interviews across India between December 2005 and August 2006. 

 

 

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