Child sex ratio still alarmingly low

The findings of the fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS), conducted in 2015-16, present a better social and economic position of women in the country. Most of the important indicators of women’s empowerment like literacy and economic status have shown improvement in the past 10 years. There is less domestic violence, the number of child marriages has gone down and women have a greater role in decision-making at home. The previous survey (NFHS-3) was done in 2005-06. The female literacy ratio for age six years has increased from 58.3% to 68.8%. There is improvement in literacy rate in all age groups. According to the survey, 53% of the women have savings accounts compared to 15.1% 10 years ago. The survey has also pointed to a better health profile on the basis of indicators. There are positive features with respect to marriage age and fertility in most parts of the country.

A remarkable finding is that the child sex ratio, defined as the number of girls between the age of 0 and six per 1,000 boys, has increased at the national level from 914 to 919. The increase is small but it is important because it may be a sign of the reversal of the steadily declining trend. It is specially significant because Punjab, Haryana and some other northern states where girl children are not preferred have led the reversal of the trend. Punjab’s child sex ratio improved from 734 to 860 and Haryana’s ratio went up from 762 to 836. The improvement may be the result of official and other campaigns and programmes against gender discrimination and female foeticide. There have been signs that individual and social attitudes have slowly changed, though it may be too early to say that the trend has changed permanently.

But the overall picture has been marred by the poor performance in some states. The sex ratio at birth in the 0-5 age group declined in some major states, and the overall improvement was because of the better performance of the northern states. The ratio has gone down even in progressive states like Karnataka. The child sex ratio is also lower than the overall sex ratio. The difference is more glaring in urban areas because sex detection facilities are more available there. When fertility is going down, as the figures show, there is an increasing preference for boys. All this should cause concern, and shows that the battle for the girl child has not been won yet. It is necessary to intensify the campaigns and implement the programmes more effectively.

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