the past decade, gender equality has been recognized as key
not only to the health of nations, but also to their social
and economic development. The promotion of gender equality
and empowering of women is one of United Nation's Millennium
Development Goals. But even though India is a signatory to
the goal, unfortunately it lags far behind in terms of gender
equality as a major portion of our population; verily the
half of humanity – the female sex, continues to be denied
not just their rights and an equal status, but even the chance
The Child Sex Ratio (CSR) in India,
which has constantly been on the decline since Independence,
has appallingly touched an all-time low, according to the
latest Census Report. From 976 in 1961, to 927 in 2001 and
914 in 2011, the decline in CSR rings a threatening alarm
for the country. Why?
Child Sex Ratio is the number of female
children in the age group of 0-6 per thousand of male children
in the same age group, at any given point of time. Since it
counts six years after birth too, a decline in CSR means that
not only are lesser girl children allowed to take birth, but
even after birth, the chances of their survival are much lower,
when compared to male children.
A UNDP report states that the CSR for
most developing countries lies between a narrow range –
from 943 to 971 girls per thousand boys. India's current CSR
however falls almost 30 points short of the lower mark.
Amartya Sen's seminal essay, 'More than 100 Million Women
are Missing', in New York Times in 1990 about the skewed sex
ratio in Asia and Africa, stands true for India even two decades
later, though in a much more frightening proportion when applied
to the Child Sex Ratio. This is because CSR is not only a
reflection of the present gender bias in society, but also
a wake-up call warning of the steep and unavoidable gender
imbalance in the future.
It is significant that while the country
has progressed in every sector since the Independence, be
it education, commerce or health, the Child Sex Ratio has
witnessed a continuous decline. Why one may ask, if more people
are educated and aware now; many are financially better off
to raise children; government policies support families with
girl children, then why this decline? Many blame it on the
advances in medical technology that have come over the years,
enabling sex detection and sex selective abortion.
It is true that technical advances have
facilitated avoidance of unwanted births. While earlier female
infanticide was resorted to, now it is female foeticide that
is more readily used to prevent girls from taking birth. The
country's policy makers recognized this menace in 1994 and
tried to prevent the misuse of Ultrasound and other diagnostic
techniques though the Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic
Techniques (PCPNDT) Act. But since then, the Child Sex Ratio
has only declined further.
It is important to realize that technology
is not the real cause behind the dropping CSR, it is only
a catalyst. The questions – why these methods are resorted
to, why girl children are not allowed to take birth, or allowed
to survive beyond their early years, must be answered to understand
the root cause behind the decline in Child Sex Ratio.
The answer is the prevalence of a strong
son preference in our society. Even after ages, this gender
bias continues to put expecting mothers into undue pressure
as families and society continue to prefer male children.
Remarkably it is in urban areas and families with educated
adults as decision makers where the Child Sex Ratio tends
to be more unfavourable to girls. A National Rural Health
Mission study states that “more educated women are using
ultrasound testing and having disproportionately more sons
than women with less or no education.”
Our society, which is unfriendly – even hostile to
women, could be a major reason behind educated women preferring
to have sons rather than daughters. Discrimination against
women in workplace, their vulnerable position in family, increasing
incidents of violence against women ensure that bringing up
a daughter can be a daunting task, particularly if you have
yourself lived the thankless life.
The modern urban economy is another
factor which paradoxically has contributed to the prevailing
gender imbalance in society, instead of helping alleviate
it. A report by the Centre for Women's Development Studies
suggests that most couples today are carefully planning the
gender composition of their children, in accordance with the
costs of bringing them up. This has tilted the scales further
in favour of boys as the cost of having a daughter now includes
her schooling and higher education, besides her marriage.
Thus even progressive developments are being used to portray
girl children as a burden.
Child Sex Ratio is an indicator of not
only gender balance or lack thereof, but also a trigger for
trends in important aspects of development in any society
– education, health, employment and empowerment. This
is because women, as forbearers of the next generation, have
a key role in building the future of a nation. If women are
healthy, educated and empowered, it is more likely that their
children will go to school, their families will be healthy
and communities will prosper.
The socio-economic and cultural fundamentals
in our country have always been detrimental to the female
half of our population. The government along with the community
needs to initiate a change in these fundamentals by directing
endeavours that aim to reduce the son preference in society
and increase the value of daughters to their parents.
After successfully implementing its
women and girl child empowerment programme, Swabhiman, for
almost a decade, Smile Foundation has joined hands with the
Department of Health, NRHM, Help Age India and Cairn India
Limited, to initiate one such sensitization campaign called
'Padharo Mahari Lado' (Welcome My Dear Daughter) in Rajasthan,
a state with one of the lowest Child Sex Ratio in India.
Intensive awareness programmes including
folk songs, dance and drama, are organized every month as
part of 'Padharo Mahari Lado', to sensitize the community
towards girl children. The campaign celebrates the birth of
girl children and local customs, like beating a thali on the
birth of a boy are performed for new born girls. Their parents
are provided with safety kits including soap, quilt and mosquito
nets. Girls performing well in studies and sports are also
felicitated under the campaign.
It is time we recognize the central
role a woman plays in welfare of a family, of a society, indeed,
of the whole country and give her an equal chance. Laws and
policies will not be able to recover the missing girl children
unless the society itself becomes a friendly and conducive
space and welcomes girl children with open arms.