Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Missing girls in 'developed' states

The child sex ratio (CSR) in India has declined from 927 in 2001 to 918 in 2011 (girls per 1,000 boys) according to a new report entitled Missing Girls: Mapping the Adverse Child Sex Ratio in India (Census 2011). Of the total 640 districts in the country, 429 districts have experienced decline in CSR.

Of these 429 districts, 26 districts exhibited drastic decline (of 50 points or more), and 52 districts reported sharp decline (of 30-49 points).

The report from the office of Registrar General & Census Commissioner shows that 13 out of the 35 states and Union Territories (UTs) have CSR lower than the national average of 918 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011. The CSR ranged from a maximum of 972 in Arunachal Pradesh to a minimum of 834 in Haryana. Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, NCT of Delhi, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Maharashtra have recorded lower than 900 girls per 1,000 boys.

It has been found that although the CSR for most of the tribal districts (having more than 25 percent tribal population) was above the national average of 918, the situation significantly deteriorated in 2011. While in 2001, 120 tribal districts had CSR of 950 or more, in 2011 this figure unfortunately declined to 90 districts.

Another report titled Women and Men in India 2014 from MoSPI shows that the bottom 5 big states in terms of CSR (for the age-group 0-6 years) are: Haryana (834), Punjab (846), Jammu & Kashmir (862), Rajasthan (888), Uttarakhand (890) and Gujarat (890). The top 5 states in terms of sex ratio for the same age group are: Arunachal Pradesh (972), Meghalaya (970), Mizoram (970), Chhattisgarh (969) and Kerala (964).

Due to the weak implementation of Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (PCPNDT Act), in-laws often get to know the sex of the unborn child. Thereafter, it is followed by provision of low quantity & less nutritious food to pregnant and lactating mothers (at the place of in-laws) apart from insufficient attention to maternal health & care, mental and physical torture etc., all of which have a strong negative bearing on women's health and survival and also on their children—unborn or otherwise.

A report published earlier entitled The Law and Son Preference in India: A Reality Check by Advocate Kirti Singh (November, 2013) informs that the two-child norm and the laws and measures to effectuate this norm has resulted in son preference and daughter aversion as most people, if they are forced to have a small family, automatically prefer sons to daughters.

Concerned over the skewed sex ratio, Minister for Women and Child Development Smt. Maneka Gandhi has recently expressed that a programme for Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save and Educate the Girl Child) may soon be started in North and western states of India.

Latest available Census data clearly shows that some of India's more developed states have low overall sex ratio such as Haryana (879), Punjab (895), Uttar Pradesh (912) and Gujarat (919), indicating that growth may not automatically improve gender equality.

On the contrary, the top 5 states in terms of overall sex ratio are: Kerala (1084), Tamil Nadu (996), Andhra Pradesh (993), Chhattisgarh (991) and Meghalaya (989) – some among which are harbingers of human development and female literacy.

Sex ratio is often used as an indicator by social scientists to depict the level of gender discrimination existing in a society. Although women are considered to be biologically stronger than men in terms of survival and life expectancy, gender discrimination often cuts short the life span of the unborn/born female child in a patriarchal set up.

Overall sex ratio, however, may not give a true picture of gender discrimination because due to migration one may find that more women are left behind in the rural areas vis-a-vis men, thereby, yielding high sex ratio figures. Corollary to this, when more men flock to cities and towns for livelihood, it results in low sex ratio in the urban areas.

Overall Sex Ratio - Rural, Urban and Combined (1951-2011)

As per the Census 2011 data, sex ratio in urban areas is 929 females per 1000 males while in rural areas it is 949 females per 1000 males (see the graph above). Between 1951 and 2011, sex ratio has declined by -0.32 percent to reach 943 females per 1000 males.

Instead of relying on the overall sex ratio, experts prefer sex ratio in the age-group 0-6 years so as to assess gender discrimination resulting in female foeticide & infanticide. Also, the latter rules out to a great extent the effect of migration (as discussed earlier). Low child sex ratio (for the age-group 0-6 years) is an outcome of female foeticide, which takes place because sons are preferred to daughters for various reasons including to carry forward the lineage.

Effective advocacy and policy implementations can take place only when good quality data and acceptable gender-based indicators are available. However, one may encounter a variety of problems that are associated with indicator-based study of poverty amongst women such as choice of an appropriate indicator, lack of correlation between various gender based indicators, problems with the sources of data (such as reliability), unavailability of data and qualitative versus quantitative data. Therefore, one should be careful in choosing sex ratio over other gender-based indicators to show gender discrimination.


Missing Girls: Mapping the Adverse Child Sex Ratio in India (Census 2011)

Women and Men in India 2014, 16th Edition,

Chapter 1: 'Population' in Women and Men in India 2014, 16th Edition

"The Law and Son Preference in India: A Reality Check" by Advocate Kirti Singh, United Nations, November, 2013,

Maneka Gandhi Releases ‘The State of the Girl Child’ Report “Pathways to Power”

More girls go ‘missing’; sex ratio declines -Smriti Kak Ramachandran, The Hindu, 30 November, 2014,

Image courtesy: Missing Girls: Mapping the Adverse Child Sex Ratio in India (Census 2011)