Niti Aayog’s report on the falling sex ratio confirms much more needs to be done
If a recent data released by the Niti Aayog is anything to go by, the picture is not so rosy for women and girls in the country. Its report showcases a worrisome trend of falling the sex ratio between girls and boys at birth. Overall, 17 of the 21 States surveyed have fared poorer in ensuring that girls are allowed to be born. Most critical among the States, surprisingly for some, is Gujarat, which saw a drop of 53 from 907 females per 1,000 males born in 2012-13 to only 854 females per 1,000 males in 2014-15.
Another surprise was that Haryana, which had just list month claimed to have successfully reversed its traditionally appalling sex ratio, was found by the Niti Aayog to have dropped by 35. Unless there has been a near-revolutionary change in 2016-17, on which the State Government is apparently basing its claims, this data mismatch is a cause for concern for policy makers and administrators.
The relatively good news is that some erstwhile BIMARU States, and Punjab which has also been notorious for female foeticide due to the prevalence of male-preference societal structure, have shown improvements in narrowing the gender gap. While Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have registered a rise of 19 and 10 female births per thousand male births, Punjab has registered an increase of none over its previous year’s figures. While these are surely signs of slow and steady progress, overall, the dip in figures especially in prosperous States must set alarm bells ringing for Central and Sate Governments. The decline in sex ratio has been a matter of concern for decades and steps have been taken by successive Governments as well as civil society groups to ensure a female birth is considered as welcome as a male one. The Niti Aayog’s report, though, has just confirmed that much more needs to be done.
The genesis of the problem, of course, lies in the prevailing son-preference culture across the country wherein boys are considered to be the inheritors of the family legacy – the ones will take the family lineage forward, as it were. Economic reasons, such as parents viewing a male child as more likely to look after them in their old age, are also a factor. Girls, on the other hand, are tragically still viewed to be a societal burden. Intertwined with this sharply biased culture are other factors like increasing cases of rape and crime against women, not to mention social practices such as dowry and early/child marriages which make the birth of a girl not an occasion for celebration but a cause of worry for many in India.
Advances in sex-identification technology have simplified the process of detection of a female fetus to be aborted later despite the law against sex-selection. Some States have not adopted the Clinical Establishment Act that mandates all clinical establishments to register under this legislation. Smaller family size,while excellent from most perspectives, has also had an unintended consequences – While earlier repeated pregnancies until a male child was born were common, today, the girl child is identified and killed even before she is born to keep the family size small and satisfy our culture’s male-centric obsession.
One of the strongest campaigns in recent years to save the girl child has, perhaps, been the Prime Minister’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao push that has found resonance across the length and breadth of the country. Realities on the ground, however, mean the battle will be a long one and individual citizens as well as civil society must extend a helping hand to the Government to secure the future of the girl child.