The bad news from the census

The bad news from the census

Discrimination against the girl child is a well-known phenomenon in India. But in contrast to the more subtle biases, in certain districts, if not in entire states, of north India, the situation is scandalous. These places have gained notoriety in recent decades for “missing girls". Entire generations have disappeared due to the wide prevalence of female foeticide.

As reported in Mint on Monday, Jhajjar district in the socially backward region of south-western Haryana has a child sex ratio of 774 (i.e. 774 girls for 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group), the worst in the country. Jhajjar is barely 60km from New Delhi.

So far, the focus of state governments in the north (especially Punjab and Haryana) has been to try and implement the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection Act) 1994. This law forbids the use of medical techniques such as ultrasound tests to determine the sex of the foetus. Even in this limited, but important, task, these governments have proved ineffective. The results of the 2011 census show this clearly.

The close to 17 years of experience in working that Act shows that it is a wrong remedy to a social problem. If the incentives of parents—which include the mothers of prospective children—are geared towards boys, there is little that a law can do. If ultrasound clinics have been banned, or severely restricted in performing such tests (except in case of medical emergencies), they have simply gone underground. Corruption at the official level in the districts and lethargy in the state medical bureaucracies effectively kill the limited possibilities of the Act.

A better solution would have been to provide incentives for girls from their childhood all the way to the stage of higher education. These— mainly some petty scholarships—hardly do the job. In any case, even these were implemented very poorly. Then again, these are only palliatives. Much more, in terms of creating social infrastructure in these districts—education, health and employment for women—is required before any improvement takes place. This is far away as the priorities of the state governments are very different and these social disasters are not even on their radar.

What is responsible for adverse sex ratios: social backwardness or flawed policies? Tell us at