Friday, April 1, 2011

Sense of Census: Save the girl child

NEW DELHI: India's child sex ratio continues to plummet, indicating that female feticide and infanticide remain rampant. Provisional data released by the census office for 2011 shows that the child sex ratio (0-6 years) has further declined to 914 girls for every 1,000 boys as compared to 927 in 2001. 

The divide between the north and south has got even starker with J&K's child sex ratio falling precipitously to 859, making it the third worst state after Haryana and Punjab. In 2001, J&K had a better child sex ratio than the Indian average. With the exception of Himachal Pradesh, no state in the north now has a child sex ratio above 900. 

Haryana (830) and Punjab (846) remain at the bottom of the table, but have improved over 2001. Punjab is the most improved state with a 48-point increase over 2001, while Haryana has 11 more girls per 1,000 boys than it did in 2001. 

The two prosperous agrarian states are among only eight including Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram and Andaman & Nicobar that have improved their child sex ratio over 2001. Kerala and Puducherry, which had improved their child sex ratios in 2001, have joined the rest of the country in a decline. J&K has seen the most precipitous drop, 82 points, in its child sex ratio, with Maharashtra registering the next biggest fall among the major states. 

India's north-east seems to have a much healthier attitude to girl children than the rest of the country: Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have the highest child sex ratios among the states; Chhattisgarh and Kerala follow a little further behind. 

Overall, the last 30 years have been cruel for India's young girls. There are now 48 fewer girls per 1,000 boys than there were in 1981. J&K, Maharashtra and Haryana have had the worst 30-year decline in child sex ratios. 

"Whatever measures that have been put in over the last 40 years have not had any impact on the child sex ratio," Union home secretary G K Pillai conceded. Minister of state for women and child development Krishna Tirath expressed concern over the low child sex ratio in states like Haryana and Punjab and said that she would take up the issue with the state governments. 

"It (the decline in child sex ratio) was expected, but it is a warning signal for the nation to wake up," Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research, said. She said the law banning sex-based abortion "is not stringently implemented". "The caution should be taken seriously. We are leading to a crisis situation," she said. Social activist Dr Sabu George said the larger cause for concern was the fact that previously unaffected states were also indulging in sex determination because of aggressive promotion of the sex selection tests by doctors. 

The census also measures overall sex ratio, which is the proportion of females to every 1,000 males across all ages. The overall sex ratio has increased from 933 females for every 1,000 males in 2001, to 940 in 2011, indicating that a girl child's chance at life greatly improves once she crosses the age of 6. This is in line with a general improvement in the overall sex ratio over the last twenty years and is the highest since 1971. Only three major states have shown a decline in their sex ratio: J&K, Bihar and Gujarat. 

Delhi, Haryana and Punjab are the states with the worst overall sex ratios. Kerala and Puducherry are the only two states or UTs where women outnumber men. A healthy sex ratio remains a largely southern phenomenon — Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh round out the top five.

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