Category Archives: The Better Half

Missing Women

In Dang district, at Gujarat- Rajasthan border, 8 brothers of the same family are married to one girl, Sarup (1). Three months old female fetus is found in sewage canal in Udaipur, Rajasthan (2). Eligible Jat boys from Haryana travel 3,000 km across the country to find themselves a bride. With increasingly fewer girls in Haryana, they are seeking brides from as far away as Kerala as the only way to change their single status. Where are the girls? Have they gone missing?

graph 1
Source – Census 2011

It was Amartya Sen, who minted the phrase “Missing Women” when he found that the number of women with respect to men was way below the levels of natural selection in developing nations, particularly India. The biological or natural norm of sex ratio at birth is 105 or 106 boys to 100 girls. Ideally, the child sex ratio should be around 950 girls per 1000 boys. Indian child sex ratio seemed normal till 1981, after which there has been a significant decline – at the all-India level (from 945 in 1991 to 914 in 2011) and in the individual states too.

According to the World Bank’s “World Development Report 2012”, the gap between number of women dying compared to men is estimated 3.9 million every year in low and medium income countries (3). India has the second largest number of missing girls at birth; girls who should have been born given the natural selection ratio. The preference of son stemming from customs like dowry along with easy availability of technology of sex selective birth have resulted in a phenomenon which Amartya Sen describes as Pre-Natal discrimination. Although there has been progress in terms of infanticide (murdering girl child after birth) but the state at birth remains grim. It is very important to look at data at birth because these girls would tomorrow constitute the 0-6 or 6-14 age group & given the prejudice at each node, the cumulative picture 20 years from now can be very dark indeed.Missing Girls - Source WDR 2012, World Bank.

Missing Girls – Source: WDR 2012, World Bank.
Excess Female Deaths (in thousands)

The picture becomes even more horrendous when we begin to dissect the national data on regional basis. According to UNICEF, since 1991, 80% of districts in India have recorded a declining sex ratio. Maharashtra, Gujrat, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana which are the most prosperous states in north and western India, have recorded a decline of over 50 points in sex ratio. Sex ratio in district of Daman is a shameful 591. Where as Haryana tops the charts among states with lowest sex ratio with a score of 861. Another point to observe is that the sex ratio is merely 900 in urban areas compared to 946 in rural areas (4). It is unfortunate that the “well educated” and “civilized” people of the urban areas and the relatively developed states are inconsiderate about this matter.

These numbers challenge the morality of our society. Society which takes pride in calling itself rich in culture and tradition. This is certainly not the culture OR tradition that has been passed on generation after generation for 10,000 years. Its high time, that we wake up to this challenge and act decisively. We are a society that has foundations in wonderful family tradition and family is incomplete without the daughters.