India's preference for male children is no news. However, even after more than 75 years of independence, the world's largest democracy struggles with sex-selective abortions, which lead to India having almost half of missing female births in the world. On the one hand, the country has progressed significantly to control female mortality at birth; missing females' birth inspired by selective abortions of female foetuses continues its upward trend across the states. There is a global increase in missing female births, documented from near zero in the late 1970s to 1.6 million per year between 2005-2010. The total number of missing females at birth between 1980 and 2010 accounted for a massive 30 million.
Daughters Faced More Discrimination Than Sons
A study published by The Lancet mentioned daughters in India faced more discrimination than sons, owing to several socioeconomic, cultural and historical factors. Missing female births among second-born and third-born children (following an earlier daughter or daughters) contributed to more than half of total missing female births. Moreover, missing third-born girls were rampant in states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. Other states like Punjab and Haryana contributed to the second and third-order births of female children was twice as much as their share of total births in the country.
Missing second and third girl childbirths were often based on pre-determined factors like the number of girl children before. The factors for consideration also included education, urban and rural residences, religion, wealth, caste and state. Most surprisingly, the missing birth count was the highest in the wealthiest rung and literate women population. Selective abortions of female foetuses in India continues despite the Pre-Conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1994, which banned people from using prenatal diagnostic techniques, which became widespread in 1985.
Government's Initiatives Against Female Foeticides
When 2001 and 2011 were compared, the experts noticed nearly three-quarters of India's districts saw an increase in the missing female births. While, on the one hand, social activists reached the grassroots of Indian society to spread awareness about the vain of sex-selective abortions. The government started publicizing the campaign of banning prenatal sex determination. Moreover, some state governments also provided their citizens with cash transfers on the birth of a girl child in the family.
The overall sex ratio is the primary statistic by the government of India, which showed stabilization between 2007 to 2012. However, the overall sex ratio started declining from 2013 onwards. Decreasing fertility rates and reduced family sizes are detrimental factors for the overall sex ratio. Therefore, the conditional sex ratio for the second-order or higher order of births might be a more robust mechanism while keeping a count of the previous births to analyze the sex ratio more efficiently. India has made commendable progress in reducing the child mortality rate and narrowing the excess mortality amongst girls. According to the statistics, the number of child deaths before five years almost became equal between boys and girls by 2015.
Sex-Selective Abortions Most Common Cause
The Lancet's report noted that sex-selective abortion has been most common among the affluent and educated, but whether this practice has changed among higher birth orders and how missing females at birth are distributed among Indian states remain unknown. The organization assessed 2.1 million individual birth histories from 1981 to 2016, after excluding multiple births, constituting 1.5 per cent of the total births. According to the report, the decreasing fertility rates were quite evident, and secondly, the proportion first Borns increased substantially between the first and the fourth National Family Health Surveys (NFHS).
The study also mentioned that the most relevant births for the organization to document were approximately 0.29 million births after the first son, 0.28 million after a first daughter and 0.08 million after the first two sons and 0.10 million after the first two daughters. Missing female births have been increasing over the last few decades cases in India. The count stood at 3.5 million between 1987 and 1996, 4.5 million in 1997 to 2006 and 5.5 million between 2007 and 2016. Therefore, there was an annual mean of 0.55 million sex-selective abortions in the last decade. Alarmingly, missing female births increased in all Indian states.
The conditional sex ratio from 1987-1996 to 2007-2016 showed a worsening trend for the whole country and almost all the states. Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana accounted for the most skewed sex ratios, comprising nearly a third of the national totals of missing second-born and third-born girls at birth. Sex ratios decreased with time in the wealthiest quintile and among mothers with grade 10 or higher education, but the report mentioned a marginal increase in 2007–16. On the global figure, India accounted for 45.8 million missing females compared to 72.3 million in China.
"Missing females" are women missing from the population at given dates due to the past's cumulative effect of postnatal and prenatal sex selection. The report also mentioned that between 2013 and 2017, almost 4,60,000 girls were missing at birth every year. An analysis reported that gender-biased sex selection accounted for two-thirds of missing girls, and post-birth female mortality accounted for the remaining one-third. China and India together accounted for 90 to 95 per cent of missing females at birth. Moreover, the two countries also account for the most deliveries every year.
Highest Rate Of Excess Female Deaths in India
India has the highest rate of excess female deaths at 13.5 deaths per 1000 births. The estimate shows that one in nine deaths of females below the age of 5 could be attributed to postnatal sex selection. The positive side of the situation is that governments, both at the Centre and the state levels, have considered the root cause of missing female deaths as sex-selective abortion.
The demographic balance will inadvertently impact the marriage systems. In several countries where marriage is a much sought-after institution, many men have to delay or forego their desire of finding a life partner because of the declining availability of brides. Therefore, marriage squeeze could further lead to increasing child marriages. The UN report said that millions of girls globally are subjected to practices that harm them physically and emotionally, with the full knowledge and consent of their families, friends, and communities every year.