Blog Post

India’s Missing Women

Due to rampant sex selective abortions and a culture fixated on producing sons, a new government survey has found that India now has 63 million fewer women than it should and another 21 million “unwanted girls” who are often denied even the most basic needs.

The Daily Mail is reporting on the shocking new research, conduced by India’s chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian, which used census data to reveal the true extent of the damage being done to their society by the people’s obsession with sons.

It's been a long-standing tradition in Indian families to cherish sons while looking upon the birth of a daughter as a misfortune, even an embarrassment. And because of the practice of marriage dowries, a girl also represents impending debt to the parents. As a result, the girls who are born are often neglected.

“Studies have long shown that Indian girls are less educated than boys, have poorer nutrition and get less medical attention. Many women — including educated, wealthy women — say they face intense pressure, most often from mothers-in-law, to have sons,” the New York Post reports.

In order to get the sons they desire, couples rely on sex-selective abortion, which is illegal in the country but still practiced.

For the first time, this study attempted to estimate the number of those girls who are born but are considered “unwanted.” By noting the sex ratio of the last born child in a family, scientists reasoned that any significant bias toward males would show the parents kept having children until they achieved the number of sons they desired.

“Families where a son is born are more likely to stop having children than families where a girl is born. This is suggestive of parents employing ‘stopping rules’ – having children till a son is born and stopping thereafter,” Subramanian explains.

Based on these calculations, researchers found that there are an estimated 21 million of these “unwanted” girls who are languishing in the country for no other reason than that they were born female. Many of these girls don’t survive, which only adds to the accumulating dearth of women.

The report also found that this preference for boys isn’t just the habit of the poor living in rural areas but extends to families in wealthy areas such as New Delhi. Even Indian families living overseas reflect this skewed gender ratio.

“The challenge of gender is long-standing, probably going back millennia,” Subramanian writes. “No one stakeholder is responsible for creating the problem or solving it,” he added.

“Many of the gender outcomes are manifestations of a deeper societal preference, even meta-preference for boys, leading to many ‘missing’ women and ‘unwanted’ girls,” he surmised. “So, Indian society as a whole should perhaps resolve—the miles to go before society can sleep in good conscience—to consign these odious categories to history soon.”

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