KNOWLEDGE IS known to spread light — opening up closed minds. But it does not always shield the girl child. Prosperity drives one to charity. Unborn little girls do not benefit from them.
An extraordinary four-year research in the heart of rural India, post 2001 Census, shows that people living in areas with a higher level of education and prosperity slaughter more female foetuses than those languishing in social and economic backwaters.
The study, funded by the Swedish Research Council and carried out by the economic history department of Lund University as part of a research on developing economies, shows that "progressive areas" of India have a lower child sex ratio (CSR).
Researchers claim that "ill-focused development is triggering a conscious choice to eliminate the girl child from the family”.
The study carried out in five states — Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal — revealed wide differences in sex ratio in villages of Karnataka and Uttaranchal. The less prosperous villages had a healthy ratio, while their wealthier neighbours, with higher indices of education and development, logged lesser number of girl children. It showed a strong shift from “son preference to active daughter discrimination”.
Factors like nuclear families, high education cost and access to technology contributed to it, said researchers Mattias Larsen and Neelambar Hatti. “Discrimination against girls is much higher where mothers are literate. In most cases, literacy is just confined to formal degrees; mindsets are primitive,” Hatti said.
According to researchers, it was easy to detect the sex of the child with improved technology and nuclear families made frequent use of sex determination techniques to do away with “unwanted” girls. Economics has a role to play. “Sons are preferred over daughters as couples opt for a single child. They feel that the returns on investing on a male child will be much higher compared to a girl, who eventually move to their husband’s family after marriage,” Larsen said. Bloodline is another important consideration. “Parents opting for a single child prefer boy as it carries forward the bloodline,” he added.
The study brings to light the “disconnect” between economic improvement and human development. “The new and ugly form of sex discrimination has now become visible — one that is strongly linked to prosperity and daughter-aversion. Higher education levels do not necessarily translate into gender sensitivity,” the study says.
Tim Dyson, a professor at the London School of Economics and an Indian demography expert, accepts the premise. “In India, development and education have not been able to influence people in the right direction and inculcate the right values. Look at the cities. Female foeticide is much higher. There were similar signs in Japan and the US 30 years ago, which they tackled effectively,” he said.
According to member-secretary of the State Women’s Commission, Sanjeevani Kutty, the phenomenon is common in Maharashtra. “The more prosperous areas of the state, particularly towns, have a lower sex ratio. In Mumbai, south Mumbai has a lower ratio than other parts of the city,” she said, adding: “The state government asked us to device a strategy. We are training people in districts and forming women’s groups to tackle the problem. The groups will visit ultrasound clinics and organise campaigns among doctors.”
In Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has ordered medical establishments to report on the sex of all aborted foetuses. “We are trying to regulate ultrasound clinics more closely,” said executive health officer, BMC, Jayraj Thanekar.