Friday, October 7, 2011

Sex ratio: Kerala losing its sheen

Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla/New Delhi

Kerala witnesses alarming fall in child sex ratio as per the 2011 census

Kerala and Puducherry are no longer the best place for women. Although they both had improved their child sex ratios in 2001, the duo has joined the rest of the country in a decline. India's child sex ratio continues to plummet, indicating that female feticide and infanticide remain rampant. Provisional data released by the census office for 2011 shows that the child sex ratio (0-6 years) has further declined to 914 girls for every 1,000 boys as compared to 927 in 2001.
Proportion of girl child in Kerala stood at 11.35 in 2001. The latest census puts them at 9.36, indicating proportionate fall of 1.99 in the state.
India ranks 141st among 165 countries analysed by Newsweek for treatment meted out to women. India scored a meager 41.9 out of 100. Even Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka ranked higher than India, much less China.
Within the country, the divide between the north and south has got even starker with J & K's child sex ratio falling precipitously to 859, making it the third worst state after Haryana and Punjab. In 2001, J&K had a better child sex ratio than the Indian average. With the exception of Himachal Pradesh, no state in the north now has a child sex ratio above 900.
The census 2011 has more concerns than a few surprises like increased literacy and slowing population growth. Among the most important and disquieting feature is the contradictory trend in the sex ratio of the general population and among children under the age of six.
The sex ratio of the general population (number of females for every 1,000 males) has indeed increased from 933 in 2001 to 940 in 2011. This marks a break in the pattern of the past half century and reflects an improvement in female mortality. But there is a flip side to it. Over the same period there has been a sharp drop in the child sex ratio from 927 to 914. Compare it with 945 in 1991, and the fall is 31 points. It is rather defeating. Because the figure means that there are fewer girls to marry off than ever before.
Almost 10 per cent of the youth may have to stay bachelors at some point of time, according to a study. Remember the rather amusing comments given by Union Minister and Jammu Kashmir leader Farooq Abdullah that bachelorhood might force some men to turn gay. He would be addressing youths of his own state, one hopes, where the huge fall in child sex ratio has sent shock waves. We will talk about it in detail below. The contradiction is that girl child mortality/birth sex selection has increased even as adult female mortality has fallen. Besides, the deterioration has not taken place in the north-west but that a path of decline has been established in other states as well - Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.
Even the paradise on earth, Jammu & Kashmir, isn't all that heavenly a place for a girl child, as reflected in Farooq Abdullah's comments. The state, which is also home to Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, has seen the single largest decline in sex ratio in the country, according to provisional Census 2011 as compared to Census 2001. While in 2001, the number of girls per 1,000 boys (aged between 0-6) stood at 941, the latest Census found that it has plummeted to 859. At present, there are 82 fewer girls in the state per 1,000 boys.
No other state is even remotely close to J&K's dismal record. Maharashtra is second in that list. But, in absolute numbers, it has 30 fewer girls per 1,000 boys as compared to 2001. It puts a big question mark over J&K's seriousness in implementing the all important Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PC & PNDT) Act. Ever since the Act came into effect, the state, which supposedly has only 84 registered ultrasound clinics - inarguably, the hub for sex selection - has not sealed a single one. Similarly, the number of court cases ever filed by the state against doctors involved in sex determination is a cipher, and consequently, it has a nil conviction rate.
Yashpal Sharma, mission director of J&K's National Rural Health Mission, said, "We admit that the picture in the state isn't encouraging. We are increasing checks in nursing homes and clinics and also not allowing purchase of ultrasound machines until the owners are registered ultrasonologists."
It may not be far fetched idea to correspond this period to the so-called era of neo-liberalism. As more families are having fewer children (registered by the reduced fertility rates) there is therefore an ongoing gendering in their sex compo­sition. The circle is widening. While the child sex ratio fell from 943 in 1991 to 927 in 2001, that of the overall sex ratio rose from 927 to 933 in the same period (a clear sign that life expectancy among women was increasing significantly). 2001 marks a significant mile stone. It was in 2001 that several states in north-west India witnessed plunges in their child sex ratios - with Punjab leading the way by dropping below the 800 mark, while other states such as Himachal Pradesh experienced steep fall for the first time. Secondly, 2001 made history, especially at the district level, because of child sex ratios falling below the 950 mark in other parts of the country outside the north-west, such as Goa, urban Orissa, and even pockets in the north-east. Clearly, a smaller pro­portion of families were now resorting to sex determination tests probably for the first time.
Census 2011 reveals a peaking of the practice of sex selection in states like Gujarat, Haryana, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh, with small improvements from very low levels in Chandigarh and Punjab. Punjab's rise from 798 to 846 (48 points) makes it now look more like its neighbours, easing out of the severity. In states like Delhi and Gujarat roughly the same proportion of families is resorting to sex selection as was true a decade ago.
Child Sex Ratios are falling in large parts of western, central and eastern India - Maharashtra, Goa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh - and even Andhra Pradesh.
The very fact that the CSRs are falling in such a wide variety of states like Goa in the west, which is not associated with high levels of poverty, to poor states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and then again in a heterogeneous state like Maharashtra, which has witnessed one of the steepest declines in 2011 of 30 points, makes a micro level research imperative.
In our anxiety to restore the balance, we should not forget that in a growing population like ours with its hypergamous marriage market, male privilege has benefited over generations from an excess of marriageable women in any given cohort. In other words, there has been an invisible structural imbalance at work in most parts of the country, but which was never considered to be a problem to be "corrected". Kerala stands out with its peculiarity. Even as the state has positive sex ratio but witnesses highly discriminatory practices against women. In all the focus on sex ratios, fertility and literacy, little attention is given to structural gender discrimination.
A comparison of the latest concerns surrounding the demographics of our neighbour China will and should open the eyes. China is still the most populous country in the world, and, moreover, has had the worst skewed sex ratios the world has ever seen.
This has been laid at the door of its heavily administered one child policy, which resulted in practices such as sex selection to ensure that the only child was a boy. Interestingly, current demographic concerns being voiced are primarily focusing on the very consequences of a one child policy per se. China is now beginning to be an aging population, with too few people in the working age to support too large a proportion of older people.

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