It is a matter of grave concern that India’s sex ratio at birth has begun to fall again after showing improvement for several years. According to the latest Sample Registration Statistical (SRS) Report, India’s sex ratio at birth fell from 909 live female births for every 1,000 male births in 2011-13 to 906 in 2012-14. This is disheartening as things appeared to be improving even if only marginally. In 2008-10, the sex ratio at birth was 905. It began improving thereafter, rising to 906 in 2009-11 and 908 in 2010-12. It has begun to decline after touching a high of 909 in 2011-13. Globally, the sex ratio at birth favours boys albeit only very marginally. In India, however, the gap between live male and female births is huge and is generally attributed to prejudice against girls. So deep is this prejudice that people do not want the baby girl to be born and prefer to abort the foetus. Female foeticide results in fewer live female births.
India has taken some steps to prevent female foeticide. Laws have been enacted to ban sex selection before and after conception and to prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex-selective abortion. Even determining the sex of the foetus is forbidden and regarded a punishable crime in India. However, implementation of this law has been poor. Convictions under this law are rare. Not surprisingly then, the practice of female foeticide continues across the country. Despite the patchy implementation, some progress was being made, as evident from the improving sex ratio at birth figures from 2009. The findings of the latest SRS report are therefore worrying. The government must examine reasons behind the new downslide, as it warrants swift action.
Kerala, Odisha, West Bengal and Karnataka are among the states with a relatively better sex ratio at birth figures. With 866 and 876, Haryana and Delhi have the worst sex ratio at birth figures in the country. Other poor performers are Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Jammu & Kashmir. These states, all in northern India, have sex ratios at birth which fall below 900. These states are known to be deeply feudal and patriarchal and clearly, this lies behind their abysmal sex ratios at birth. The SRS data underscores the fact that while progressive laws are important, improvement in sex ratios in the country can be sustained only if the patriarchal attitudes that encourage violence against women and girls, are changed. Prejudice against girls cannot be tackled through slogans alone. It requires more comprehensive awareness and educational programmes that will convince the public that daughters are as precious as sons.