It is unfortunate that India should begin the new year with the news that its child (between 0-6 years of age) sex ratio has fallen to the lowest since 1961. Census 2011 finds the ratio dipped from 927 in 2001 to 918 in 2011. A religion-wise analysis shows that the decline is the sharpest among Hindus, who make up 80% of the population—while among the Christians and the Muslims, there has been a decline, but not as sharp. The only ray of hope in this rather bleak scenario is that there has been a turnaround among Jains and Sikhs. The better showing of the latter group points at how successful the anti-female-foeticide campaign has perhaps been in Punjab, the state with the largest Sikh population and a badly skewed overall sex ratio.
While strict enforcement of government controls on sex selection helps matters, awareness drives against it have to get a larger push. Best practices of incentivising the girl child—states like Bihar and Maharashtra have a lot to offer in this regard—need to become part of central policy. For the Union government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao initiative, that focuses on fighting falling sex ratio and improving female literacy, reversing the current scenario will prove to be the true test.