London: The number of girls to boys in India has hit a record low, British charity ActionAid said as it urged the government in New Delhi to take “sustained action” to prevent a lost generation of women.
“In a country with a long history of discrimination against women, the preference for sons over daughters has led to the number of girls under the age of six hitting an all-time low,” said ActionAid in a report.
Ratios of boys to girls aged 0-6 in sites in four out of five states it studied in north and northwest India were now lower than at the time of the last nationwide census in 2001 -- and the gap was widening, the report said.
Both rural and urban areas showed similar declines and the phenomenon cut across class and wealth lines, added the report, which is titled “Disappearing Daughters”.
The report called on the Indian government for tougher enforcement of laws banning pre-natal sex detection and sex-selective abortion, describing their efforts to implement the legisation so far as “woefully inadequate”.
Attitudes towards girls as financial burdens for families because of dowry pressures also need to be challenged, while the quality of and access to public health care and state-run schools had to improved, it added.
“It is clear that without sustained action on many fronts, millions more women will go missing in India,” it said, citing figures from medical journal The Lancet that more than 500,000 female foetuses are being aborted per year.
Members of ActionAid and Canada’s International Development Research Centre interviewed families in more than 6,000 households and compared statistics with national census data.
The researchers said that normally, there should be about 950 girls born for every 1,000 boys, but found that already low ratios of girls to boys from 2001 in the sites surveyed were now even lower, except for Rajasthan.
Kangra, in Himachal Pradesh state, saw the steepest fall, from 900 to 789. Although there was an increase in Dhaulpur, Rajasthan, from 819 to 871, the rates were still low.
The report said neglect in poorer areas with less access to public health facilities affected survival rates, but declining ratios in better-served urban areas was down to parental choices about the number and sex of offspring.
Birth order also affected girls’ survival rates: all survey sites showed a decline in the number of girls among second-born children; in three sites there were fewer than 750 girls for every 1,000 boys.
ActionAid said declining sex ratios was not down to poverty as in both rural and urban sites, there were significantly fewer girls in richer families.