All things being equal, women would outnumber men, the girl child is more likely to survive in infancy than the boy. But in India, according to a Youth in India report brought out by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, the sex ratio is declining steadily. From 939 women to 1,000 men in 2011 it is projected to fall to 898 by 2031. This should set off alarm bells in the government, civil society groups and the law. This ratio is man-made through selective sex determination with the aim of getting rid of the girl child, early death due to neglect and infanticide. But there is no reason why things cannot be set right.
The consequences of a falling sex ratio are already evident and none of it is good news. The shortage of women has led to a sharp rise in violence against them. This has led to a situation where, apart from the ingrained son preference, people don’t want girls all the more as they feel that it is difficult to keep them safe. In a study done by the Centre for Social Research in Haryana, fear of violence is a cause for female foeticide. Also the women who produce daughters face much more domestic violence which makes them complicit in getting rid of the girl child. The ugly social practice of polygamy has made a comeback in certain areas as well as forcible marriages of widows and purchasing of brides from poor areas. With the advances in technology, sex determination has become easier very early on in pregnancy with fatal consequences for the girl child.
The economic consequences are grave for this means that a huge proportion of the productive population is missing and also the lack of women impairs the ability of men to work. The declining sex ratio calls for much greater political will and the willingness to take the help of powerful organised entities like the clergy and of course civil society groups. The Sikh clergy took the lead earlier when it said that anyone found guilty of female foeticide would be ex-communicated. This worked in favour of the girl child. The government has a master communicator in the form of the prime minister who has taken up the cause of girls in his Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao programme. But, a stronger message would be in order – let the girl child be born and let her live up to her full potential.