Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The missing daughters of India

According to the 2011 Census, the number of children in the 0-6 age group has fallen from about 163.8 million in 2001 to about 158.8 million now—an indicator of declining fertility.

Falling numbers

However, the census also points out that the decline is greater for the girl child. While there was a decline of almost three million among girls, the decline among boys was only a little over two million.

“There are two main causes of skewed sex ratios in places like Jhajjar. One, foeticide, and two, dipping fertility rates,” said activist Sabu George, who works in the area of women development and empowerment.
“With economic development and prosperity, the preference for a small family has increased, and along with it the desire for a boy child has been further enhanced.”

George, too, claims female infanticide is rare and limited to some very “difficult areas”.

An example of the small family phenomenon can be seen in Khetawas village, where most couples prefer to have two children, or even one child. Of a population of around 2,200 in the village, only 900 are women.

“People are now becoming more aware of the benefits of small families, and hence, are limiting themselves to one or two children,” said village council chief Malta Devi. ” Because of that, the demand for a boy has increased even more. So when a couple has a boy as their first born, they undergo surgeries to ensure they can’t conceive again.”

“We had two boys and then I got an operation. Why should I risk having any girls now? We don’t want so many children,” said Hemlata of Khetawas.

The social repercussions of this phenomenon of the missing daughters are already apparent in Jhajjar. In the conservative Jat-dominated Mathanhail village, the skewed sex ratio is forcing many young men to marry from outside the state.

“The main problem of less women is we are finding it difficult to get our sons married, ” said 50-year-old Krishna, whose two sons in their 20s have been unable to find suitable matches. “So we have to now get girls from Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, Orissa.... This is leading to further cultural problems.”

Naresh, who uses only one name and married Sunita from Jharkhand two years ago, said: “I faced a big problem. There were no women. I couldn’t get married till I was over 30, when we got Sunita from another state.” They now have a one-month-old daughter.

“I got married around two years ago and have managed to now learn the customs and language,” said Sunita. “But it is very different here as compared to where I am from. I have to cover my face. It wasn’t so strict there. It is more conservative here.”

Both Sunita and Naresh say their daughter will be treated differently.

Ruhi Tewari in Livemint. More Here.

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