‘Arre, aapke ghar beta huya hai kya? Arre waah! Aap toh bohot khushnaseeb hain.’ — this would be a regular phrase heard from quintessential Indian family members. The glitter in their eyes is neverending when they hear someone had a male child. Oh wait, you thought now that women are fighting for equal rights, working the same jobs as men, juggling between household chores and workplace drama, Indian households have gotten over their ‘beta’ obsession?
‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ is a mere slogan for all our social media shenanigans, not the ground reality. And worse, according to this new study it is estimated that 6.8 million fewer female births will be recorded across India by the year 2030 due to an increase in sex-selective abortions. Well, it’s not a surprise that Uttar Pradesh tops this list.
If you have seen the news lately, you would know the dire condition of women’s safety, healthy and all the other aspects in UP, which looks worse than the slump our economy is in. But let’s not get into that here and focus on what the new study has estimated and how that can be detrimental to the country and its daughters.
What the study says
The study has been conducted by academics from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia and Universite de Paris, France. They have projected the sex ratio at birth (SRB) in 29 Indian states and union territories, covering almost the entire population of India, taking into account each state’s desired sex ratio at birth and also the population’s fertility rates.
“In this paper, we implement a Bayesian hierarchical time series model to project the SRB across India by state. We generate SRB probabilistic projections from 2017 to 2030 for 29 States and Union Territories (UTs) in India, and present results for 21 States/UTs with data available from the Sample Registration System. Our analysis takes into account two state-specific factors that contribute to sex-selective abortion in India, resulting in sex imbalances at birth: the intensity of son preference and fertility squeeze. We project that the highest deficits in female births will occur in Uttar Pradesh, with a cumulative number of missing female births of 2.0 (95% credible interval of 2 million from 2017 to 2030. The total female birth deficits during 2017–2030 for the whole of India is projected to be 6.8 million,” the researchers wrote. The study which was published in the journal Plos One this week called for strengthened policies to be adopted in the country that “advocate for gender equity and the introduction of support measures to counteract existing gender biases”.
The staggering figures do not really come as a surprise to a lot of people in India. As reported in the Guardian, Anuradha Saxena, a member of the women’s empowerment division for Sikar district, in Rajasthan, said, “It will take time to remove deep-rooted customs and beliefs. Progress is slow and incremental but we are working on making girls valued and cherished instead of being seen as a liability who needs a huge dowry to be married off.” As per the 2011 census, Rajasthan’s Sikar had the worst child sex ratio out of the state’s 33 districts – 888 girls per 1,000 boys.
What girls are to the country
The study also added, “Uttar Pradesh is of primary importance since it is the most populous state in India with an estimated population of 237 million as of 2020. The SRB in Uttar Pradesh follows a similar rise and fall pattern; its SRB was above 1.100 in 1990 and reached the local maximum level of around 1.150 in the early 2000s. The SRB has declined slowly since then and it is projected to decrease further from 1.132 to 1.121 between 2017 and 2030. Gujarat and Rajasthan follow similar downward trends, which is of considerable importance to national sex imbalances at birth because these states contribute to almost half of the births for the entire country.”
This could well be a result of the country’s ingrained attitude towards girls. Currently, between 900-930 per 1,000 males is what the skewed ratio of men to women in India look like. While looking at the findings, the researchers of the study also suggest that the sex ratio at birth is immensely low as boys are majorly seen as the breadwinners of the family while girls are a burden to be married off and this is prevalent across every social class in the country. Women’s healthcare and medical care for young girls are in a sad condition in India while boys are likely to get more nutritious food during the growing years. Several schemes from the government, campaigns by organisations, projects by Bollywood stars and the highlighting of these aspects in the media have done their part to curb these actions and alter the attitudes of the people but that seems to not have been helping so much. In a few states, some of the government officials have made visits from house to house where a girl child was born to raise awareness and make it an event or cause for celebration to help them realise.
What the future holds
The study’s projection model also accounts for “two out of the three main factors that contribute to sex-selective abortion and imbalanced SRB (i) the intensity of son preference, approximated here by the desired sex ratio at birth (DSRB); and (ii) the “fertility squeeze” effect, approximated by the total fertility rate (TFR). The third major precondition for skewed SRBs, i.e. accessibility to technology, is not considered here because no annual estimate or projection is available by Indian State/UT for the period 1990–2030.”
According to Girls Not Brides, about 27 per cent of girls in India are married off by their families before they turn to the legal age of 18 years. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, recently announced that he has been considering raising the legal age of marriage for girls from 18 to 21 years. As per the UN population fund, India and China both account for over 90 per cent of the estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million missing female births worldwide each and every year just because of selective abortion.
So, if we have to believe the projections of the above study, a lot more work needs to go into saving the girl child and their safety in India in the near future. Or the indication to where we are headed doesn’t look good at all.
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