A major report on sex-ratios and abortion in India gives detailed background information on the scourge of gendercide. Sex Ratios and Gender Biased Sex Selection: History, Debates and Future Directions has been published by UN Women and covers the history, the figures and the debate about the causes of gendercide.
India’s child sex ratio (CSR) – the number of girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of 6 — has deteriorated sharply over the past 20 years, dropping to 918 in 2011 from 945 in 1991, even though levels of education and wealth have risen significantly.
The report emphasises that sex-selective abortion has decreased in traditionally problematic regions, mostly in the north, but increased significantly in other areas. In the northwestern state of Punjab, where the CSR was extremely low, the number of female children per 1,000 male children rose to 846 in 2011 from 798 in 2001.
However, in regions like Manipur, in the northeast, and Andhra Pradesh, in the southeast, the traditionally even CSR has dropped below 940.
Dr. Mary E John, author of the report and senior fellow of New Delhi’s Centre for Women’s Development Studies, argues that the decline reflects a common gender-biased family plan: “families are actually ‘planning’ to have at least one son and at most one daughter.” Dr. John suggests that parents are concerned about dependent female adults, rather than female children. Women in India are marrying later and tend to stay live at home for longer, she writes in the report.
The trajectory of gendercide is a little-know feature of the problem. When the British colonised India in the 18th century, they were shocked to discover “missing girls”. Some accounts describe villages without a single girl. In that era, the principal causes seem to have been large dowries and hypergamy, the practice of women marrying men of a higher caste. According to census figures in 1901 put the ratio was at 961 women for every 1000 men, which fell to 946 in 1951, 941 in 1961 and 930 in 1971.
Why does the ratio keep falling even as India becomes more “modern”? The report says:
… two broad claims emerge. On the supply side, as we have repeatedly seen, we have medical technologies, granted fullest agency in the hands of the aggressive radiologist who takes his mobile machine into the hinterland of rural India to vend his wares, unmindful of the criminality of such actions. Such unscrupulous practitioners in turn are being ably supported by multinational capital, and several activists have pointed to the role that companies like General Electric are playing in pushing the market for ultrasound machines, further and further, into India’s rural heartland.
On the demand side, what appears with equal frequency is, quite simply, ‘dowry’. “Like a black shadow in the wake of dowry demands, is the spread of sex selection”.
This is an extremely interesting report which sheds much light on a complex problem.