India to record 68 lakh fewer female births between 2017-2030: Study

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India will record 68 lakh fewer female births between 2017 and 2030 due to sex-selective abortions, says a new study.

Using official data, an international team of researchers estimated that the average annual number of missing female births between 2017 and 2025 would be around 4,69,000 per year and is likely to increase to 5,19,000 per year between 2026 and 2030.

The researchers projected sex ratio at birth in the largest 29 Indian states and union territories that covered 98.4% of India’s population in 2011.

As many 17 states (and union territories) showed an inclination for preferring sons, as per the study that makes the projection with a statistical model using government data. Most of them are concentrated in north-west India.

In particular, the effect is most significant in nine states: Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

There has been a reported imbalance in India in the sex ratio at birth (SRB) since the 1970s due to the emergence of prenatal sex selection and the cultural preference for male babies. 

The Centre in 1994 brought out the pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Technique Act to check the menace of female foeticide. The law was amended later to give it more teeth. However, there have been suspicions on its implementation by authorities.

"The imbalanced sex ratio at birth is indirect evidence that sex-selective abortion still exists," principal investigator Fengqing Chao from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia told DH. 

Among all states and UTs, Uttar Pradesh has the largest contribution to the number of missing female births. It will have 20 lakh less female births between 2017 and 2030, representing nearly 30% of the national total. The average annual missing female births in Uttar Pradesh are projected to be 141,000 during 2017–2025 which increase to 151,000 during 2026–2030.

“Utter Pradesh is the most populous state in India. The number of births in this state is also the largest. The number of missing female births takes into account both the imbalanced SRB and the number of births,” Chao said.

According to the official data, India’s sex ratio (number of females to 1000 males) fell to 896 in 2015-17. The sex ratio is on a downward slide since 2011-13 when it was 909. Subsequently it fell to 906 (2012-14); 900 (2013-15) and 898 (2014-16).

“The study flags the issue, which is getting worse every day. But the estimate is conservative as the problem is worse,” commented Punit Bedi, a gynaecologist and foetal medicine specialist at Delhi’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, who campaigned against female foeticide for years. “The issue has gone out of our mind; it doesn’t mean the problem has disappeared.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS One earlier this week.