One Million Girls 'Missing' in India
WITH ONLY 914 FEMALES PER 1,000 MALES, according to a recent report, India has recorded the lowest child sex ratio since the country’s independence in 1947.
Worse yet, the skewed ratio is being linked to illegal abortion of female fetuses, prevalent among educated and urban Indians.
India’s Census Commissioner C. Chandramauli said the unprecedented drop in the child sex ratio (CSR) was a “matter of grave concern” as he presented the provisional report of Census of India 2011 around a month ago.
India’s civil society, including Indian Christians who are among the communities that recorded the highest CSR, says laws against female feticide and numerous schemes to promote the welfare of the girl child have failed to change people’s mindset.
There is no dearth of evidence that daughters are unwanted in sections of the Indian society. On May 11, a man in southern Andhra Pradesh state beat his 26-year-old pregnant wife to death for carrying a female fetus for the third consecutive time, reported Mail Today daily. It is not uncommon for newspapers to report on female infants thrown in garbage dumps, left on railway tracks, abandoned in hospital washrooms or even killed.
It is difficult to say how many girls are killed in the womb or soon after they are born, but the number of missing girls comes to as high as 1.07 million, as the CSR (in the age-group 0-6 years) has declined from 927 females in 2001 to 914 in 2011.
The two states with the highest CSR are Mizoram, with 971 females against 1000 males, and Meghalaya, with 970 females. Both are Christian-majority states, and matrilineal societies, in north-east India, inhabited mainly by tribal or aborigine people.
“Generally speaking, most parts of India have patriarchal structures where sons are preferred over daughters. It is the son who is believed to bear the family’s name and carry on his father’s generation,” said Mathew P.M., the coordinator of “Let Her Live,” a program for the girl child run by an evangelical Christian group, the Salt Initiative Charitable Trust.
Binita Behera, Program Coordinator at CANA (Christians AIDS/HIV National Alliance), explained it could be linked to India’s agricultural economy where boys played a special role, and popular understanding of religion, which sees a woman’s role in life and society as subordinate to that of a man.
“Many equate bringing up of the daughter with ‘watering a plant in someone else’s garden.’ She leaves the home of her parents after marriage, which, too, is seen as a burden thanks to the demand for hefty dowries by the groom’s family,” added Mathew, who organizes educational programs for Delhi’s slums and church groups.
The conventional wisdom has held that such anti-female attitudes prevail in rural parts and are therefore linked to poverty. But the 2011 Census report smashed this myth.