Four days after the Women & Child Development Ministry celebrated National Girl Child Day, comes the damning news that the country still has a long way to go in correcting its regressive mindset towards the girl child. In fact, while many of the northern states - traditionally associated with abysmally skewed sex ratio - have managed to improve the sex ratio at birth (SRB), the southern states, barring Kerala, have reportedly witnessed some of the most dramatic drops on this vital indicator between 2006 and 2016.
SRB is the number of girls born every 1,000 boys and this data is collected annually. Data collated by the office of the Registrar General of India from the civil registration system (CRS) showed that in 2016, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan had the worst sex ratio at birth (SRB) of 806 while the all-India figure stood at 877 girls per 1,000 boys, The Times of India reported.
According to The World Health Organisation, in the human species the ratio between males and females at birth is slightly biased towards the former. Nature provides that the number of newborn males slightly outnumber newborn females because, as they grow up, men are at a higher risk of dying due to sex differentials in natural death rates as well as higher risk from external causes such as violence, war casualties, accidents, and injuries. Hence, the natural SRB is pegged at 952, or 105 males for every 100 females.
In India, Chhattisgarh was the only large state to record a higher SRB of 980, while Kerala - which has always fared well on this chart - followed with 954 in 2016. In contrast, Karnataka has dropped steadily from an SRB of 1,004 in 2006 to 896 in 2016. Tamil Nadu stood sixth from the bottom on the list with its ratio falling from 939 to 840 in the same time frame, after hitting an all-time low of 818 in 2015. In fact, the daily added that the state's SRB has been lower than the all-India one since 2011. Even Haryana, which had boasted the worst SRB (830) during the last census in 2011, has managed to fare better - climbing to 865 in 2016.
The two remaining southern states have also seen declining SRBs. In Telangana, it fell from 954 in 2013, when the state was formed, to 881 while Andhra Pradesh reportedly saw a steep drop from 971 in 2015 to 806 in 2016. Some experts point to the confusion created by the bifurcation of population between Andhra and Telangana as a probable cause for the decline in SRBs in the recent past. However, according to the daily, while both states witnessed a fall in the ratio in 2016, the data between 2013, when the bifurcation took place, and 2015 do now show any sharp variations.
According to Sabu George, an activist focussing on the issue of falling sex ratios, there is a problem in the birth registration system in some districts in these states, which is pulling the overall ratio down, the daily reported. But, ironically, most of the southern states have achieved 98-100% registration of births which, on paper at least, rules out the possibility of a large numbers of female births not getting registered.
Apart from South India, several other states show sliding SRBs in the period under review. In Gujarat, the ratio fell steadily from 905 in 2009 to 886 in 2014 (data for 2015 and 2016 not available), again despite nearly 100% birth registration. In Bihar, the SRB fell from 924 to 837, while the same for Uttar Pradesh went from 930 to 885. Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh has dropped to 904-909 after touching 938 in 2009. However, given that these states boast a lower registration of births of 60-75%, these numbers may not depict a true picture.
States like West Bengal, Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir and Goa also depicted declining SRBs. Significantly, the daily excluded smaller states and Union Territories from the analysis so there may well be more cause for concern on the SRB front. The good news is that several states have also managed to improve their SRB figures between 2007 and 2016, such as Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana. The over Rs 250 crore spent on the Modi government's 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' scheme in the last three fiscals till FY18 has clearly helped out. Delhi and Assam reportedly posted the biggest jumps from 848 to 902 and 834 to 888, respectively.
Of course, SRB is just one benchmark that India needs to actively work on. While female foeticide leads to fewer girls being born in India, excess female under-5 mortality is also among the highest globally. A study published in Lancet Global Health last year found that an estimated 2.4 million girls under 5 years die per decade due to gender bias in the country.