Rich and educated Indian parents are increasingly aborting a second girl child and instead waiting for a boy, driving 90% of the country’s citizens into zones with sex ratios that are unnaturally and often dangerously low.
The sex ratio for second-born children in families where the first-born is a girl has dropped overall from 906 girls per 1000 boys in 1990 to 836 in 2005, new research published in the journal Lancet today shows.But this low ratio has fallen even lower to just over 750 girls for 1000 boys among the richest 20 % families, and to barely above 700 for families where the mother has over 10 years of education.
The scientists warned that the findings did not mean a higher preference for boys among the richest and educated sections of India – but instead hinted at their greater access to sex selection and abortion, and ability to evade the law.
“Since the proportion of the rich and educated is likely to rise in India, we are worried about the implications of this trend,” lead researcher Prabhat Jha, from the University of Toronto and the Centre for Global Health Research said.
This conditional sex ratio – for second-born children where the first-born is a girl -- was comparatively higher at about 850 for the richest 20 % families, and at 880 for families with educated mothers in 1991.
The researchers found that the poorest 20 % families and families where the mother had no education on an average showed either no change or even improvement in this conditional sex ratio since 1991. The scientists used data from successive census reports and National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) for their analysis.
There was no similar change in sex ratio over the past two decades for the second-born child if the first-born was a boy – suggesting that families are comfortable with girls if they already have a boy.
“The demand for sons among wealthy parents is being satisfied by the medical community through the provision of illegal services of fetal sex-determination and sex-selective abortion,” SV Subramanian, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Daniel Corsi at the McMaster University in Hamilton Canada said, in independent reactions to the research.
“The financial incentive for physicians to undertake this illegal activity seems to be far greater than the penalties associated with breaking the law,” they added.
But India as a whole may have to face consequences of the dramatic decline in overall sex-ratio observed by the 2011 census and analysed in greater detail by the researchers.
Only 50 % of Indians lived in districts with sex ratios less than 950 in 1991. A sex ratio between 950 and 975 is the globally accepted natural sex ratio. But the fraction of the population living in districts with a sex ratio below 950 increased to 70 % in 2001 and is now an alarming 90 %.
Only 10 % of the population lived in districts with a sex ratio below 915 – broadly considered dangerously low – in 1991. But this fraction increased to 27 % in 2001 and has now increased sharply to 56 %.