Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The latest headcount or census figures for India have confirmed the worst drop in the number of girls in comparison to boys since the country became independent and this calls for nothing short of a national response from the government and policy framers.
“This confirms our worst fears. Something that we and many others have been warning about for several years now, it is a shame for the entire country. It is time to move away from patchy responses and look at the larger picture to evolve a stronger strategy to change the status quo,” said ActionAid India executive director Sandeep Chachra.
One of largest enumeration exercises in the world, the Indian Census 2011 results show that among children up to the age of six, the number of girls to 1,000 boys reduced to 914 girls to every 1000 boys, a drop from 927 in 2001. Thus the census records this as the lowest since the country’s independence in 1947.
India’s top bureaucrat home secretary G.K. Pillai has said this shows we have been going wrong in our policy approaches for four decades. But this admission is not enough and it is time for a response on a war footing.
“Based on our work and one of the largest primary survey on gender gap and sex-selective abortion in India, we have been trying to draw attention to this since 2007 (Read the ActionAid report here: http://www.actionaid.org/micrositeAssets/india/assets/planning%20families.pdf) . Poverty is not the only reason for sex-selective abortion and as the data shows that it is the upper caste families and prosperous areas of the country that has most missing girls and the sex ratio gap. The urban areas are worst offenders and the gender ratio has been better among Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Communities,” added Chachra.
Most direct measures include not just a renewed focus on awareness generation but also engaging state officials, particularly doctors and health care staff.
The behavioral change communication to change attitudes of people on girl child has been patchy and does not treat the issue in its totality; the campaigns have been weak in outreach. These need to be backed by a strong national policy that fixes targets on stopping this practice. The status of women in India, especially violence against women, lack of access to land and livelihood resources also need to be linked to the issue.
1. Dholpur has seen a positive increase in the gender ratio. What could be the reasons attributable to it?
An increase in awareness, especially among mothers and married women, is a direct factor in bringing in this positive trend. But as we know women do not take decisions on matters of sexuality, family and reproductive choices, therefore the issue of awareness needs to be seen in relation to work with men in the community and many other factors.
Advocacy with the doctors and district administration has also made them more responsive to the law and a relation of their direct responsibility in making the law work.
Community outreach works has established an excellent rapport with the women’s groups which allows an early identification of potential cases where women might be pressured into the vicious cycle of abortions in the hope of a male child.
Empowerment of women and community, access to education, entitlements and an active support system are important for addressing the challenge.
2. How easy is the access to ultrasound machines in the urban and rural areas? Since there are laws and regulations at the moment on processes of acquiring it?
Our experience has been that access to sex determination technology and termination of pregnancy both among the poor and the middle, even the upper middle, income groups is easy. The laws and regulations are only as effective as its implementation.
Female infanticide has been a bloody legacy of the patriarchal social system – where girls were killed through crude and barbaric methods – what the modern diagnostic methods did was took that violence inside the womb itself and on the body of the mothers. During the interviews for the survey, we have often come across mothers who have undergone five to six pregnancies in as many years.
The criminal system of sex determination and termination is a well oiled system involving a number of actors who carry it through.
As long as there is a demand for killing female fetuses, with technology and profit available, along with poor implementation of the laws, it will continue.
3. There are several laws and schemes the government has to fight the practice of sex selective abortions. How effective are they? Do people have information about it?
Information is limited, particularly among women. But at the same time disempowered status of women, lack of appreciation of rights of girls, from human rights, access to nutrition and health, collectively compound the situation. But there is no denying that there needs to be a concerted and consistent campaign for behaviour change that encompasses legal, human rights and developmental dimensions.
4. How is government currently tackling this and what is lacking there?
The Indian government has introduced a number of schemes to address it. These have included financial incentives to have daughters and monitoring of pregnant women in areas with very low numbers of girls. Efforts to implement the law banning sex detection and sex-selective abortion have so far been woefully inadequate. None of these solutions addresses the much more complex underlying problem of why having daughters is so unwelcome for so many families.
There is a high premium placed on marriage in India. With dowry being a major source of pressure for families with daughters. Such practices must be challenged, if daughters are to be seen as anything other than an economic burden.
Improving the quality of and access to public health systems and government schools must also be a priority, so that poor families do not need to choose which child receives these basic services.
For case studies click on: http://www.actionaid.org.uk/doc_lib/disappearing_daughters_0608.pdf
For a more detailed report: http://www.actionaid.org/micrositeAssets/india/assets/planning%20families.pdf