• India’s child sex-ratio (below six years) is now the worst in 70 years, possibly the worst ever. The latest decline was from 927 (girls per 1,000 boys) in 2001 to 918 in 2011.

  • The child sex-ratio, if it does not improve, will lead to a deficit of 23 million women in the 20-49 age group by 2040.

  • Urbanisation is worsening the child sex-ratio: it is 905 in towns and cities, 923 in rural areas.

  • Three of five states with the worst child sex-ratio have higher per capita income than the national average, but the link with prosperity is less clear.

Taking inspiration from a sarpanch (headman) in Haryana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his radio show, Maan Ki Baat (On My Mind), on June 28, launched the hashtag #SelfieWithDaughter, to draw attention to India’s plummeting sex ratio.

So, here is a look at the numbers:

The overall sex ratio has risen from 933 in 2001 to 943 in 2011, thanks to improved life expectancy among females to 67.7 years.

Demographers attribute improvements in the overall sex ratio to rising female life expectancy; women in India now outlive men, as lifestyles and diseases take a greater toll on men.

India overturns the natural balance

But the scenario for the future is grim because India’s declining child sex-ratio indicates that girls are increasingly being aborted, killed or otherwise dying:

The overall sex ratio in 1921 was 955 women per 1,000 men, declining to 946 in 1951 and 943 today. The child sex-ratio was 983 girls per 1,000 boys in 1951, declining to 918 in 2011, the lowest in the seven decades since it was counted.

The rate of decline has worsened in the years during which the overall sex ratio began to improve. This corresponds to the decades following 1981, offering evidence of sex-determination tests, selective abortion and female infanticide.

Only China, Pakistan Are Worse

How does India compare to its partners in BRIC and its neighbours?

India’s overall sex ratio is below all BRIC nations and its south-Asian neighbours, save for China, Bhutan and Pakistan, which has a sex ratio of 942, or one behind India’s 943.

Russia has the highest sex ratio with 1,165 women per 1,000 men, while Bhutan has the lowest with 897.

The urban sex ratio for 2011 is 905, while rural India’s is 923.

The reasons for the lower sex ratio in urban areas, as IndiaSpend reported earlier, are easy accessibility to sonography centres for sex determination and other procedures.

Haryana has the worst child sex-ratio in the country with 834 girls per 1,000 boys. Most states among the top five have improved over the last decade, but they still remain among the states with the lowest sex ratios.

Rajasthan and J&K are the only two states in this list where the child sex-ratio has fallen further.

Prosperity Not Always A Cause For Low Sex Ratios

The link between low child sex-ratio and per capita income is tenuous. Three of five states with a low child sex-ratio have a higher per capita income than the national average.

Only two states, Rajasthan and J&K, have a lower per capita income. In both states, as we noted, the child sex-ratio has fallen.

23 Million Fewer Girls Predicted By 2040

The declining child sex-ratio will lead to a deficit of 23 million females in the 20-49 age group by 2040, according to a study by the United Nations Population Fund.

With fewer women of marriageable age, a significant proportion of men will have to delay their marriage.

It will also affect younger generations of men: they will face a backlog of older, unmarried men, who will still be in the “marriage market”.

“Scarcity of women would not enhance their position in society due to the simultaneous increase in pressure to marry, higher risk of gender-based violence, rising demand for sex work and the development of trafficking networks,” said the UN study. ¦

(Salve is a policy analyst with IndiaSpend.)

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