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India’s disappearing girl child: When is the change due?

Apr 11, 2011

The data on the declining child sex ratio from the recent census underlines the fact that despite “India shining”, gender justice remains a distant dream. Columnist Kalpana Sharma expresses concern over the lack of a behavioural change in the society to accept and implement the laws for gender equality.

India's economic growth rate is increasing. But its population of girls in relation to boys is declining. In that contradiction lies a truth that many in India choose to ignore: that economic growth does not automatically mean gender justice.

Yes, in the India of 2011 – where the pride of having won the ICC Cricket World Cup after 28 years has yet to wear off – girls are either eliminated before they are born or die before they reach the age of six. We already knew this. In the 2001 census, the number of girls to every 1,000 boys in the 0-6 years age group was a dismal 927. With the preliminary results of the 2011 census just out, the picture is worse today: 914 girls to 1,000 boys.

So where have these girls gone? They disappear principally through sex-selection techniques. If the tests confirm a girl, the decision is quick and sure. Why bother to bring them into the world? Resort to sex-selective abortion.

These statistics demonstrate a macabre and ruthless aspect of our society that is sometimes hard to understand. Women are worshipped as gods in India, some of them occupy the highest positions in our society, more girls go to school today than ever before, young women are entering professions closed to them in the past. Yet, a girl is still considered a burden.

Of course, not all parents think so. Interestingly, the most skewed sex ratios are from states with the highest economic growth rate. So wherever there is wealth, to be shared by members of the family, girls are not wanted. The "family", meaning the men, must divide the wealth among themselves. Girls marry other men, and their share of the family wealth would go to these other men.

"The sex ratio conundrum has also exposed the inability of successive governments in India to implement social laws"

Girls also have to be loaded with goodies when they marry these other men. Hence they are an additional expense. Boys, on the other hand, bring home the goodies when they marry – plus an additional hand to do all the chores around the house.

Put simply, education and economic growth have not changed mindsets, have not touched a patriarchal structure that values men and women differently. On the contrary, more wealth appears to have consolidated old prejudices. What else can explain the coincidence of prosperity and a skewed child-sex ratio?

The sex ratio conundrum has also exposed the inability of successive governments in India to implement social laws. There has been an anti-dowry law on the statute book since 1961. Yet dowry continues as a custom that has spread even to communities that did not follow it earlier.

There is a specific law, enacted in 1994, which prohibits the use of technology to detect the sex of a foetus. All ultrasonography machines have to be registered, and anyone indicating to a pregnant woman the sex of her foetus can be fined and even given a jail term. Yet, the law has been ineffective in stopping the practice of sex-detection. Where it is enforced, people simply go elsewhere. The wealthy go abroad. Thailand is a favoured destination for techniques that ensure you have a boy.

And while the better off work out ways to keep girls out of the picture, poor women in India die because they cannot reach hospitals in time to deal with complicated pregnancies, irrespective of whether they are bearing a son or a daughter.

So even as India is aglow with pride at our sporting achievements and economic performance, the 2011 census has brought out a darker side of the India story.

Source : Guardian
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