ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Impassioned Slogans, Half-hearted Actions

What will it take to help save the girl child?

India’s child sex ratio (CSR) has been steadily declining for decades and, according to the Census of 2011, has reached 914 girls for every 1,000 boys (0 to 6 years). The reasons for the decline are all too familiar: the low status of women and “son preference” leading to selective abortion of the female foetus. From the mid-1980s onwards, women’s rights activists have been fighting to prevent the misuse of ultrasound or sonography to determine the sex of the foetus. Medical practitioners who use technology for female foeticide have used every “innovative” trick in the book to remain ahead of the legal restrictions. From devising sign language to overcome the prohibition of indicating the sex of the foetus to using mobile clinics (vehicles) fitted with portable imaging machines, these strategies have ensured that the number of India’s missing girls has multiplied. The government’s measures to halt the fall in the CSR have come up against the usual roadblock of faint-hearted implementation.

If any further evidence of the phenomenon of a falling sex ratio is needed, the result of a new study provides unambiguous information (“Trends in Selective Abortions of Girls in India: Analysis of Nationally Representative Birth Histories from 1990 to 2005 and Census Data from 1991 to 2011”, The Lancet, 4 June). The study which analysed population census data and tracked the birth history of about 2,50,000 children born between 1990 and 2005 found that when the first child was a male, there was no fall in the sex ratio of the second child. But when the first born was a female, the sex ratio of the second births declined. The study confirms yet another familiar and disturbing trend: selective abortion of the female foetus is the highest in the most educated and in the richest 20% of the households. Despite the sociological fallout of the declining sex ratio such as the nonavailability of brides for young men in many of the worst-affected districts of northern and western India, medical technology continues to be used to target the female foetus. Anyone with just six months training or one year’s experience in image scanning can use the ultrasound machines, thus making sex determination easily accessible.

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