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Monday, April 12, 2021

5 points on India’s dangerously skewed sex ratio: What should we do?

Here comes a major concern for India. Our country is heading towards a massive imbalance of the male-female sex ratio. The ratio is already skewed and the gap is going to get widened in the next few years, experts have warned. Recently, there has been discussion in the media on India’s population future prompted by release of the Sample Registration System (SRS) Statistical Report (2018) and global population projections made by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), US. In this article, we shall talk about the skewed sex ratio of our country and how the Centre along with all stakeholders must start taking all measures to prevent the gross imbalance of male and female people.

5 points on India’s dangerously skewed sex ratio: What should we do?

1. What’s the present status of male-female ratio in India?

The most troubling statistics in the report are for sex ratio at birth. Biologically, normal sex ratio at birth is 1,050 males to 1,000 females or 950 females to 1,000 males. The SRS reports show that sex ratio at birth in India, measured as the number of females per 1,000 males, declined marginally from 906 in 2011 to 899 in 2018. There is considerable son preference in all states, except possibly in Kerala and Chhattisgarh. The UNFPA State of World Population 2020 estimated the sex ratio at birth in India as 910, lower than all the countries in the world except China. This is a cause for concern because this adverse ratio results in a gross imbalance in the number of men and women and its inevitable impact on marriage systems as well as other harms to women.

2. India’s sex ratio was always skewed

There always existed a controversy regarding the sex ratio (at birth, SRB) imbalance in India. Reports show that Punjab has sown an early elevation in the masculinity ratio post-1980, probably due to the sex-selective abortion practices. However, in the same period, the emergence of parental sex selection also influenced the sex ratio imbalances. Thus, the sex ratio and the induced imbalances depend heavily on our country’s geographical location 6.8 million females would have taken birth in India (2017-2030, predicted) if measures such as sex-selective abortions had been eliminated.

3. What leads to the skewed male-female ratio?

Many of us think that perhaps India is the only country that records a skewed sex ratio at birth. Countries like Liechtenstein (126 males/100 females), China (115 males/100 females), and Armenia (113 males/100 females) also record similar skewness. However, with the rate at which India’s population is evolving, India’s current sex ratio (112 males/100 females) should part even further. Indeed, the desire of wanting ‘son’ that tethers the sex-selective abortion practices is primarily responsible for the imbalances. However, there is even more to it. Prenatal ultrasonography for sex determination costs $2.6 in China and $150 in India, making the technology accessible. Families save money by fasting to get to know the sex of her child, which is a grave concern. The weak law enforcement catalyzes females to get ultrasonography quickly done. Factors that are responsible for skewed male-female sex ratio is of course lack of education, illiteracy, superstition, hegemonic patriarchal societal set-up, government’s lack of focus on the development of female children and women empowerment, rising crimes against women among others.

India sex ratio
Graph showing missing women in the world. Photo credit: State of the world Population report, 2020, UNFPA

4. What do data say about the issue?

Although with the figures shown, it looks like India is not topping the chart, the appearance of the skewness appeared way before India than incepted other countries. In 1970, when India recorded five children per woman, the sex ratio began to drift, raising questions on the sex’s selectivity. However, most of the data (especially before 1980) lacked a reinforced birth registration system, questioning the reliability of the data. Even today, we depend on only the Sample Registration System and the Demographic Health Surveys, which is often a limitation. The sample size here plays a crucial role, and hence the sex ratio registered in each state and union state is associated with uncertainties when contrasted with the national data. To address the anomaly, Dr Chao’s research group reported a hierarchical model to develop a ‘state-specific SRB projections’ from 2017 to 2030. The model used 98% of India’s population and predicted that the highest sex ratio differences occur in Uttar Pradesh. Places such as Sikar in Rajasthan had the worst sex ratio of 888 girls born per 1000 boys. The government recently launched a scheme where a girl’s name shall be engraved on the house’s nameplate to show that a girl holds equal importance as a boy. On the other instance, in Uttarakhand (Uttarkashi district), 947 children were born across 500 villages, and 132 villages reported no female child.

5. What can be done to improve the male-female sex ratio?

Much more attention is needed on this issue at all levels. Increasing female education and economic prosperity help to improve the ratio. It is hoped that a balanced sex ratio at birth could be realised over time, although this does not seem to be happening during the period 2011-18. In view of the complexity of son preference resulting in gender-biased sex selection, government actions need to be supplemented by improving women’s status in society.

Also, there is an urgent need to reach young people both for reproductive health education and services as well as to cultivate gender equity norms. This could reduce the effect of population momentum and accelerate progress towards reaching a more normal sex-ratio at birth. India’s population future depends on it.

Well, targeted policies, law amendments, and campaigns play an essential role that drives the sex ratio. However, the bigger problem is people’s realization and conscience. People should be educated enough so that they consider that a child is ‘child’ and not a boy or a girl. In 2015, the child development department revealed that 2000 girls are killed every day just for families’ preference for their son. India should understand that the unbalanced sex ratio is much graver than an actor who committed suicide. Awareness is also an issue as everyone got to know that an actor committed suicide, but how many of them know that our sex ratio is skewed?

We hope that things shall eventually shape up slowly with the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (Save Daughters, Educate Daughters) program. However, we, as citizens, should raise voice against the sex-selective abortion practices. It sad that every hour we post elaborative tweets and posts on ‘Kangana Ranaut, Rhea Chakraborty, and Sushant Singh Rajput.’, but nothing about the 2000 girls killed every day.

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