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Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

The mystery behind Manipur’s falling sex ratio

The CRS report for 2013 shows there were 898 live births of girls for every 1,000 boys in India compared to 908 a year ago

The biggest surprise in the latest Civil Registration System (CRS) report is not that India’s sex ratio at birth has fallen slightly, but that Manipur, where women have a leading role in public life, has reported the worst numbers.

The CRS report for 2013 shows there were 898 live births of girls for every 1,000 boys in India compared to 908 a year ago. While Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Meghalaya have the highest sex ratio at birth, their neighbour Manipur’s number of 700 is lower than even states like Haryana which are notorious for female infanticide.

District-wise numbers present a scarier picture. For instance, Bishnupur, one of the eight districts in the state, recorded only 431 female births compared to 1,208 male births in 2013. This is not a single-year aberration. CRS reports show that Manipur’s sex ratio at birth dropped suddenly from 2010 onwards. The data looks even more alarming because CRS informed us that the level of registration of births in 2013 was 100%, which means every single birth in the state was registered.

No one is sure about why the sex ratio is falling. A few speculate that this could be owing to a deepening son preference or migration, which seems unreasonable given that this is about recorded births.

Since data on the sex ratio at birth from the Sample Registration Survey (SRS) is not available for smaller states such as Manipur, there are two imperfect sources for verifying the CRS numbers—the health management information system (HMIS) data from the National Rural Health Mission and data from Census 2011.

HMIS data shows that Manipur’s sex ratio at birth was 995 in 2010-11, compared to CRS’s 770 number for 2010. However, HMIS data does not adequately capture births in urban areas, warns V.K. Srivastava, chief director-statistics at HMIS.

A comparison with Census 2011 also shows a wide gap. Single age census data from 0-6 years shows a variation in sex ratio from 933 to 928.

R.K. Narendra Singh, head of biostatistics at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal, Manipur’s capital, says that the CRS data is flawed and it’s best to go by census data.

“The census data shows that the child sex ratio (0-6 years) is falling when compared to the adult sex ratio though this is nowhere close to the levels seen in states like Haryana and Maharashtra," Singh said.

The worsening ratio “reflects not only a preference for the male child but also neglect of the female child. Female foeticide in Manipur may be creeping in, but it is nowhere close to the levels seen in other states," he explained.

According to P.A. Mini, the deputy registrar general of India (which is responsible for the CRS reports), the data is based on the birth and death registration records of state governments.

“Here the reason is that male births are getting registered (more) than the female births. Any indicators based on Civil Registration System may not give (the) actual picture unless all births are registered," she said.

The reason why CRS shows 100% coverage is due to the fact that the level of registration is calculated based on the birth rate as estimated by the SRS and the mid-year population projection as obtained from Census 2011, she said.

“Due to lower birth numbers in small states, the calculation may end up showing 100% coverage. Estimated births can go wrong as it is based on SRS birth rate and the projected mid-year population, thereby resulting in a wrong figure on the sex ratio of Manipur," she explained.

While the decline in the sex ratio might be exaggerated, experts agree that it is indeed falling and needs to be investigated.

“A good way to check for foeticide would be to examine if there has been a sudden rise in the number of ultrasound machines," said Sayeed Unisa from the International Institute for Population Studies in Mumbai. That data is hard to come by.

A news report in Hueiyen Lanpao last month said that only 103 ultrasound clinics in Manipur have been registered under the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, (PNDT Act) 1994.

Sabu George, an activist who campaigns against female foeticide, argues that female foeticide is indeed present in Manipur.

“When I visited Manipur, local people told me that the practice exists, at least in the plains. This is a problem that even Manipuri civil society will not admit to easily," he said. George also points to the rapid growth of ultrasound clinics in the state from around 20 in 2002 to 50 in 2010 and around 100 now.

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