Despite being a signatory to the goals, unfortunately, India 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 to survive.
The Child Sex Ratio (CSR) in India, which has constantly been on the decline since Independence, has touched an all-time low, according to the latest Census Report. From 976 in 1961 to 940 in 2011 and 919 in 2018, the decline in CSR rings a threatening alarm for the country as it 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.
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. India’s current CSR, however, falls some 24 points short of the lower mark.
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 policymakers 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 unfortunately the Child Sex Ratio has only declined further.
It is important to understand that technology is not the real cause behind the dropping CSR, it is only a catalyst. Why these methods are resorted to, why girl children are not allowed to take birth, or allowed to survive beyond their early years, is 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 girls and women, could be a major reason behind educated women preferring to have sons rather than daughters. Discrimination against girls in a workplace, their vulnerable position in the family, increasing incidents of violence against women ensure that bringing up a daughter can be a daunting task.
Talking on the subject, Santanu Mishra, Co-Founder of Indian development organization Smile Foundation, says “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 girls grow up into healthy, educated and empowered women, it is more likely that their children will go to school, their families will be healthy and communities will prosper.”
It is time we recognize the central role a girl plays in the 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 our society itself becomes a friendly and conducive space and welcomes daughters with open arms.
Smile Foundation’s initiative ‘She Can Fly’ is an effort to enable, equip and empower girl children with quality education, proper nutrition, good health, adequate skills, and above all a lot of self-confidence to help them live their lives to their fullest potential.
To know more, visit www.smilefoundationindia.org/she-can-fly/
About Smile Foundation
Smile Foundation is an NGO in India directly benefitting over 600,000 children and their families every year, through more than 250 live welfare projects on education, healthcare, livelihood and women empowerment, in over 950 remote villages and slums across 25 states of India. Smile Foundation is to empower underprivileged children, youth and women through relevant education, innovative healthcare and market-focused livelihood programmes.