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BW Businessworld

The Shame Is Upon Us

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More Indians have mobiles. More own motorcycles. More use cooking gas. More have television sets. More are literate. More Indians are getting economically better off. And more Indians are killing girl children than ever before. For the shame of it all.

The data given in the Census of India 2011 is utterly shocking. Rising over the past three decades, female foeticide in India is on a rampage. States and cultures that were previously bereft of this widespread crime have taken to it with great gusto. Killing the girl foetus or the newly born girl child is no longer the domain of central and northern India. Previously more gender-neutral, north-eastern and eastern India have rapidly got on to the act.

One of the fastest-growing businesses in India is foetal sex recognition through ultra-sound and amniocentesis. Go to the clinic and get tested; if it's a girl, get the foetus aborted; if it's a boy, start the celebrations. The 2011 Census demonstrates it in no uncertain terms.

To understand how poorly we stand, it is useful to start by examining the data given in the United Nations' World Population Prospects. Consider sex ratio at birth, namely the number of female births per 1,000 male births. For 2010-15, the sex ratio at birth for the world as a whole is estimated at 935 females per 1,000 male births. It is seriously dragged down by two female foeticide-dominated population giants — China and India. For China, the ratio is a disgraceful 847; India is better, but shameful enough at 926. To put things in perspective, the sex ratio at birth in Sub-Saharan Africa is 971. In other words, China delivers almost 13 per cent less girl children than Sub-Saharan Africa; and India some 5 per cent less. It is a frightening clarion cry: "Grow at 9 per cent plus; and let no unwanted female foetus come in the way!"

Now for India. Since we don't have great birth registries throughout the land, a useful way of looking at sex ratios among children is to calculate the number of girls aged 0-6 years per 1,000 such boys. The census enumerates this data, and tells a tragic tale.

For India as a whole, the sex ratio of 0-6 years has fallen from 927 girls per 1,000 boys in 2001 to 914 in 2011 — with 1.3 per cent girl children missing over the decade. The major states that fare worse than the nation are: Jammu and Kashmir, leading the pack with 82 missing girl children per 1,000 boys — a worthy task of fostering gross gender inequality in a decade; followed by Maharashtra, which has succeeded in lopping off 30 girls for every 1,000 boys; Rajasthan, which has reduced girl children by 26 for every 1,000 boys; Madhya Pradesh by 20; Orissa by 19; Andhra Pradesh by 18; and Uttar Pradesh by 17. And Uttarakhand, touted by many including yours truly as a model state, has seen a drop of 22 girl children per 1,000 boys — from 908 in 2001 to 886 in 2011.

More frightening is how many hitherto gender-equitable states are getting into the nasty habit of killing female foetuses. Look at north-east India. On average, the region's 0-6 years sex ratio is higher than India's. But it is worsening.

Manipur's has dropped from 957 girls per 1,000 boys in 2001 to 934 in 2011, with 23 missing girl children per 1,000 boys in the decade. So, too, Nagaland: down by 20 girls per 1,000 boys, from 964 in 2001 to 944 in 2011. Sikkim is down by 19 girls per 1,000, from 963 to 944. Tripura has fallen by 13 girls per 1,000 boys, from 966 to 953.

Even a relatively modern state like Goa, with one of the highest per capita expenditure in India, is not immune to killing the girl foetus. In 2001, its 0-6 years sex ratio was 938 girls per 1,000 boys; in 2011 it has fallen by 18 girls to 920.

Yes, a few states have fared better. Punjab, the greatest executor of female foeticide in India, has seen a remission. The 0-6 years sex ratio was 798 in 2001; it has improved to 846 in 2011. So, too, Haryana: up from 819 to 830. And the foetal abortion capital of India, Chandigarh, has improved a tad from 845 to 867.

But these hardly matter. Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh were the really bad zones in 1991 and 2001; these have marginally improved. However, the average and better zones have significantly worsened. Small wonder, then, that India's 0-6 years sex ratio has fallen over the past decade.

Prosperity is steadily reducing the family size. And, with it, the increasingly unwanted girl child. What happened due to the one-child policy in China is occurring by choice in India. It should make us hang our heads in shame.

The author is chairman of CERG Advisory

omkar (dot)goswami (at) cergindia (dot)com

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 09-05-2011)