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Declining sex-ratios – a matter of concern

© Outlook/2006
In India, the rapidly declining sex-ratios are turning into a demographic nightmare of frightening proportions.

By Roopa Bakshi

 In 1901 there were 3.2 million fewer women than men in India – a hundred years later the deficit increased over 10 times to 35 million at the time of Census 2001. The most disturbing decline is seen in the age group 0 -6 years. The sex ratio (number of girls for every 1000 boys) within this age group plunged from 1010 in 1941 to 927 in 2001.
The sex ratio in the age group 0 - 6 years plunged from 1010 in 1941 to 927 in 2001.

Most societies in the industrialized world have a healthy 0-6 child ratio i.e. there are roughly the same number of girls and boys in the 0 – 6 age-group. In India however, the rapidly declining sex-ratios are turning into a demographic nightmare of frightening proportions.

The sex ratio of 927 in the 0 – 6 age group is only the national average for India. There are areas within the country where the ratio has dropped to well below 900. The ratios for some of the states are: Himachal Pradesh 896, Punjab 793, Chandigarh 845, Uttaranchal 906, Haryana 819, Delhi 865, Rajasthan 909, and Gujarat 879. These are not the most economically backward areas of the country. On the contrary, Punjab, with the lowest 0 – 6 sex-ratio in the country, is the most economically prosperous state of India. Delhi, the national capital region of India, has a declining 0 -6 sex-ratio. In fact, some of the poorest states have a sex-ratio well above the national average.

Several reasons are attributed to the decline in the number of girls – neglect of the girl child, high maternal mortality, female infanticide and now, female foeticide. Sex-selective abortions have been greatly facilitated by the misuse of diagnostic procedures such as amniocentesis that can determine the sex of the foetus.

The prejudice against the girl child continues to be an issue of concern for UNICEF in India, which, together with its partners conceptualized the project ‘Initiative to Reduce Sex determination & Pre-Birth Elimination of Females’ to address the problem of female foeticide. As a result of the project activities in Mandya district in the state of Karnataka, the issue of sex selection and female foeticide was put on the public agenda and created mass awareness among the people in both rural and urban areas.

Recognising the importance of the trends emphasized in the Census 2001 data, the Planning Commission of India incorporated gender equity as an integral part of the broader strategy.
Despite the efforts of the government, civil society organizations, NGOs, UN agencies and the media to keep the issue of female foeticide high on the public and policy agenda, little or no desired results have been forthcoming.

Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has undertaken several measures to implement the ‘Pre Conception & Pre Natal Diagnostics Technique Act (PC & PNDT Act). The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection and for the prevention of misuse of diagnostic techniques for sex determination leading to female foeticide. It also prohibits advertisements regarding facilities of pre-natal determination of sex of the foetus. All clinics in the country using pre-natal diagnostic techniques require to be registered. Violation of the Act is punishable with imprisonment. The State Medical Council of Punjab recently suspended the registrations of four doctors for violating the PC & PNDT Act.

As a part of the awareness campaign, religious and spiritual leaders have been approached to speak against sex selection, video spots on girl child and sex selection aired on national and private television networks. Brand ambassadors have been used for the Government’s ‘Save the Girl Child’ campaign. ‘Atmaja’, a serial on the plight of the girl child has been telecast on the National Network.

The Department of Women and Child Development has supported workshops to raise awareness on the issue of the girl child, while the Registrar General’s Office has been promoting birth registration and introduced mechanisms to monitor sex ratio at birth among institutional deliveries.

However, despite the efforts of the government, civil society organizations, NGOs, UN agencies and the media to keep the issue of female foeticide high on the public and policy agenda, little or no desired results have been forthcoming. There is a dire need to review the strategies and re-examine the efforts to arrest the declining sex ratio.

 

 

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