Studies have estimated that there are 30-70 million missing women in India. Out of this total, the last decade (2000-10) alone accounts for about 8 million missing women. The concept of missing women is credited to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, who identified female foeticide as its main cause. The number of missing women was calculated using the standard sex-ratio at birth: 950 females per 1000 males. The impact of this trend will be felt for more than 50 years, particularly by way of shortage of brides, perhaps increased violence against women, as also further unrest in society. Earlier, the problem was predominantly confined to Northern India, Punjab and Haryana, but it has spread across India, barring the likes of the Northeast and Kerala.
Two recently published studies have concluded that socio-economic development helps to improve the sex ratio: Dr Monica Das Guptas on South Korea and Dr Christophe Z Guilmotos on China. Both countries had experienced one of the lowest sex ratios in the world. Dr Das found that development works largely through normative changes across the whole society (rather than just through changes in individuals as their socio-economic circumstances changed) and hypothesised that India may also reverse the current trend if it is able to maintain same level of development.
To understand the widely acclaimed phenomenon of inclusive growth in terms of the sex ratio, we examined the sex ratio at birth (SRB): birth of children in last one year. We conducted our analysis by dividing consumption expenditure categories into three groups--upper, middle, and lower--for 2004-05 and 2009-10, using the NSS survey. The period experienced an average 8.7% of annual GDP growth, and 7.0% per capita growth in income.
Though the consumption expenditure survey has its own limitation, ipso facto it may utilised to examine a recent trend where SRB declined to 911 per 1000 males in 2009-10 from 927 in 2004-05. Census data has also revealed a similar trend. The highest decline in sex ratio has been observed in the top 33% of population, where it declined from 914 per 1000 males in 2004-05 to 833 per 1000 males in 2009-10. For the middle income population, it declined from 914 per 1000 males in 2004-05 to 864 per 1000 males in 2009-10.
Further, Census 2011 reveals that the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group is lowest (902 per 1000 males) in urban areas (down from 906 per 1000 males found in Census 2001). As far as the rate of decline in the sex ratio is concerned, it is highest in rural India. As per Census 2011, this rate is 15 per 1000 males, as the sex ratio came down to 919 per 1000 males from 934 per 1000 males reported in Census 2001. During this period, sex selection technology has become widely and cheaply accessible. Several media stories have reported the misuse of resplendent amniocentesis technology in various parts of the country. To address the problem, there is a need to closely examine the reasons for female foeticide.
These reasons vary across rural and urban areas. In urban areas, they are more economic, and declining fertility is a clear indication of that: -1.89, according to SRS 2010. On the other hand, in rural areas, the preference for a male child is more linked to the lack of womens empowerment. A study conducted in rural China found that the birth of a male child increases the participation of females in household decisions by up to 3.5 times. A male child secures the rights of women in the family. This phenomenon may be more more significant in India as the World Economic Forums gender gap for India is almost double that of China. Therefore, the accessibility of sex-determination technology in rural area may worsen the sex ratio further.
The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 is not very effective, as it addresses only supply-side factors and does not control the demand factors. To address the demand factors, there is a need to generate awareness, and ensure the participation of women in local public forums. Recently, an initiative taken by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj has asked every Gram Sabha to organise a meeting on womens issues in the month of October. Further, the government should provide additional benefits on the birth of a female child, alongside existing schemes like Janani Shuraksha Yojana, Mamta etc. Nonetheless, high, steady economic development is the only solution to address the problem.
The author is associated with the Birla Institute of Management Technology, Greater Noida