Census of India 2011: Where are the girl-children?
According to the provisional data of the 2011 Census of India released by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, India’s child sex ratio continues to plummet, indicating that female feticide and infanticide remain rampant.
Provisional data released by the census office shows that the child sex ratio (0-6 years) has 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 the child sex ratio in Jammu and Kashmir falling precipitously to 859, making it the third worst state after Haryana and Punjab. In 2001, Jammu and Kashmir had a better child sex ratio than the Indian average. J&K has seen the most severe drop of 82 points in its child sex ratio, with Maharashtra registering the next biggest fall among the major states.
With the exception of Himachal Pradesh, no state in north India 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. These 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.
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. Surprisingly, Kerala and Puducherry, which had improved their child sex ratios in 2001, have joined the rest of the country in a decline.
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. The increasing child sex ratio that came as a shocker in the latest census figures shows 914 girls, and this is the lowest ever since Independence (1947), slipping from 927 in 2001.
According to India’s Home Secretary Mr. GK Pillai, “Whatever measures that have been put in over the last 40 years have not had any impact on the child sex ratio.” Minister of State for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath also expressed concern over the low child sex ratio.
The Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, Mr. C Chandramouli, the declining child sex ratio has shown a decline over Census 2001, a “matter of grave concern.” The decadal decline in child sex ratio, however, is less steep from that of the previous decade (1991 to 2001). In 1991, it was 945 and fell to 927 in 2001, a fall of 18 points (1.9%). This time, it has fallen to 914, a fall of 13 points (1.4%).
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“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.
Overall Sex Ratio
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.
Why is the girl-child disappearing?
The consistently declining child sex ratio – i.e. the number of female children per 1000 male children in the 0 to 6 age group, is a testimony to the failure of the fairly stringent laws against sex determination tests, or SDTs, in India.
According to Madhu P Kishwar, founder of MANUSHI and a professor at the Centre for Studies in Developing Societies, it is the ‘sick culture of preferring sons’ that is the biggest culprit.
She says, “The single most important reason for decline in 0-6 sex ratio is the growing spread of feticide following se determination tests (SDTs). The lowest sex ratio figures for the two relatively prosperous states close to the national capital, Haryana and Punjab, show that the laws against SDTs does not run in New Delhi’s immediate vicinity. In 1961, there were 978 females to 1000 male children in the 0-6 population. By 2001, the figure had declined to 927…One possible explanation for these contrary trends is that since it has become easy for families to get rid of their unwanted females through sex determination, followed by feticide, those females that survive are desired by their families, and therefore taken better care of. Hence the survival rates of girls who are allowed to live have improved. Since nature has made the female species more hardy and resilient as compared to males, they tend to live longer if they are not subjected to incapacitating forms of discrimination in nutrition and health care.”
According to the newspaper Indian Express, “It shows that sex determination continues to be practised robustly and rampantly. As is sex discrimination — girls are given less food, less health care, less education and even less affection. Also, it seems policies for the girl child haven’t done much to improve the situation,” (quoting Ravinder Kaur, professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi)
That discrimination plays a role in low child sex ratios has been recorded in previous surveys.
For instance, the Sample Registration Survey of the Registrar General of the Census for the year 2003-5 showed that in Punjab, which had a child sex ratio of 798 in the 2001 Census, the infant mortality rate among girls had risen from 52 to 55, whereas it had fallen among boys from 46 to 37.
As to the increase in overall sex ratio, 940 in the new Census as compared to 933 a decade ago, Kaur said: “The only reason for that is that life expectancy of women has gone up. This means, that there are more older women in the population that there were 10 years ago but the main concern remains the poor child sex ratio.”
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- Banning Sex-selective Abortion in Gender Equality in India: Evidence from a Policy Change
- Census of Gender Equality in India 2011:Female Genocide in Gender Equality in India
- Missing Women