Boy Bias: India Census Results Point to Selective Abortion

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The results of India’s 2011 Census reveal that far fewer girls than boys are born in the country each year, indicating a rapidly declining child gender ratio that reflects pervasive sex-selection practices. The census results for children age 6 and younger count 914 females to every 1,000 males: a number that’s declined from 927 to 1,000 in 2001 and is at its lowest since India gained independence. Comparing the number of girls actually born to the number that would have been born under a normal ratio suggests that “600,000 Indian girls go missing every year,” the Economist reports. In the past twenty years, India has seen 10 million female lives lost to abortion and sex selection.

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The numbers illustrate a long-standing problem in countries like India and China whose cultures view male children as more valuable. Kailash Satyarthi, an activist for human trafficking and child labor issues, tells NPR that “parents [in these cultures] feel that the boy is a help for the future, where the girl is a liability.” But what’s most concerning in India’s democracy is the fact that despite efforts to end this trend, the problem is worsening.

Indian Union health minister K Chandramouli told the Times of India that “female feticide is more common among educated middle-class than poor rural families.” The reasons don’t stem from financial instability; rather, parents often learn the sex of a fetus and then decide whether or not to abort the child.

Contributing to the problem is lackluster enforcement of previous measures put in place to solve it. In 1994 India passed the Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC & PNDT) Act which banned female feticide and regulated pre-natal diagnostic techniques that accommodate sex-selection. In addition it established a Central Supervisory Board (CSB) to monitor progress but the Times of India reports that this board has not met once since 2007.  Moreover, a helpline established for people to report incidents of sex-selection shut down three years after its inception.

This year’s census served as a long-overdue wake-up call to Indian officials. Last Saturday the government reconstituted the CSB, introducing 35 new members ranging from government officials to gynecologists and obstetricians. Minister of State for Women and Child Welfare Krishna Tirath and Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad will serve as chairmen of the new board whose first scheduled meeting is in late May. On April 20 state health secretaries will meet to review the implementation of the PC & PNDT Act and develop an an action plan to check the practice of sex selection that results in female feticide. The government also plans to re-institute the helpline.

While the problem won’t be solved immediately it must be addressed immediately. It may sound apocalyptic, but if an effective change in culture and attitude cannot be promoted quickly, there will soon be no babies to abort.

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