What are the causes of declining sex ratio in India?

Sex ratio is calculated as the number of females per thousand of males. Sex ratio of any country is not just a demographic variable but an important indicator of country’s gender development index. And an adverse sex ratio reveals a lopsided social development and violation of human rights. India is one of those female deficit countries in the world where sex ratio is calculated per thousand of males. In most of the developed nations sex ratio is always calculated as number of males per thousand of females as there is a natural tendency of female foetus to survive longer than their male counter parts.

Sex ratio in India has seen a declining trend since the turn of the century. Following are some of the causes of declining sex ratio in India:

1. Sex Determination (SD) and Sex Selective Abortion (SSA)

With the introduction of new reproductive technologies in 1970s in India, amniocentesis and ultrasound sonography was a big hit amongst the doctors and families expecting a child. Apart from knowing the abnormalities in the foetus, this technology also revealed the sex of the child which helped the parents to determine the sex and abort an unwanted female foetus. This is considered to be the major reason for declining sex ratio.

2. Female Infanticide and Foeticide

Several Indian states historically were known for its practice of female infanticide. With the idea of girl child being a burden to the family, there was a rampant elimination of female infants thorough various practices like ‘doodh piti’ (drowning in milk) in Gujarat, suffocating the child, consumption of opium seeds etc. After the new reproductive technologies were available the heinous practice shifted from infanticide to foeticide.

3. Son Preference and Patriarchal Value System

The patriarchal system reinforces certain norms form Indian religions and cultures. Son is preferred in an Indian household for social, economic and religious reasons. He is considered to be the bread winner and a support to parents in their old age. It is also believed that son continues the family name and lineage (Vansh). According to Hindu tradition a son is required to ignite the funeral pyre of his parents for them to attain salvation. These myths and beliefs expects to have at least one son in the family and with a small child norm or one child norm in urban educated families, daughters are eliminated to maintain the family size and structure.

4. Dowry and Burden of Marriage Cost

Dowry is the gifts in terms of cash or kind given by the bride’s parents to the groom’s family. The high demands of dowry converts girl into a liability for her parents and marrying her to a suitable groom becomes a burden. With increasing cost of marriages, which are forced to be borne by the bride’s family alone and ever increasing evil of dowry practice are the root cause for considering a girl child in the family as a commodity to be disposed through infanticide or foeticide to avoid the financial burden later.

5. Lower Nutritional and Health Status of Women

Biologically, female foetus are stronger to sustain illness, or escape miscarriages, but later the cultural inequalities end up in women of the house eating less, leftover and last, making her susceptible to low nutritional value and low health status. Early and unsafe pregnancy, lack of maternal and post natal health care all result in high female mortality rates leading to low sex ratio.

6. Absence of Stringent Implementation of PCPNDT Act

In 1994 to prevent the practice of sex determination and sex selective abortion, pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic technique (regulation and prevention of misuse) was passed in 1994 which was later amended in 2003. It prohibited the sex determination before or after conception, prohibiting advertisements and revelation of the sex by any medical practitioner in any form. Under this act several raids were conducted and sonography machines were sealed, licenses were cancelled in last decade. But so far no doctor has been convicted or imprisoned. The law is not been implemented stringently and still contains many loopholes making it weak in bringing solution to the problem.

There are dangerous consequences in the society due to declining sex ratio. It has caused a serious imbalance in the gender balance and increase in violence against women in India.

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