Missing Girl Child in Uttarakhand: A Case of Female foeticide

Devendra Budakoti

The census of 2001 has once again brought into focus the issue of Gender equity in India. The problem that has come into sharp notice is the girl child and their declining numbers. While the alarm bells were ringing for some of the relatively prosperous states such as Punjab and Haryana, the other northern states like Himanchal and Uttarakhand were never thought to be in line with Punjab and Haryana. The decline in the number of female child is more alarming, as there is sharp decline in some of the states. This decline is more noticeable in urban areas of northern states. ( Bhat 1989; Das Gupta and Bhat, 1997; Desai, 1994; El-Badry, 1969; miller, 1989; Parasuramen and Roy, 1991 )

Uttarakhand’s better health, literacy and development indicators, compared to ‘BIMARU’ states eluded the attention of demographers, social scientists and social activists in Uttarakhand, about alarmingly declining number of female children. Though it needs to be studied, whether Uttarakhand still remains to be part of the ‘BIMARU’ group, the child sex ratio trends is unlike any other BIMARU states.  The 2001 census, which reveals the declining number of female children in last decade in the state of Uttarakhand, has now caught the attention of the people working in development sector and to the need to re-look at the issue of gender and development in the state.

The General Sex Ratio was always seen to be favourable to women in the hill districts, as reflected in the census reports and its improvement in the last decade is reflected in the census of 2001. The following table shows the improvement in all the districts of the state.

General Sex Ratio

District

General sex ratio

Point increase

1991

2001

Uttarkashi

918

941

23

Chamoli

982

1016

34

Rudrapryag

1094

1115

23

Tehri Garhwal

1048

1049

1

Dehradun

843

887

44

Garhwal

1058

1106

48

Pithoragarh

992

1031

39

Champawat

945

1021

76

Almora

1099

1146

47

Bageshwar

1055

1105

50

Nainital

881

906

25

U.S. Nagar

863

902

39

Haridwar

846

865

19

Uttarakhand

936

962

26

The improvement in general sex ratio gives the impression that the status of hill women is better and improving. As the migrant male is not recorded at his native place, the number of females in census record jumps up in proportion. Looking at the child sex ratio figures for the same period, we see a totally different scenario. There is a net decline of female child in the last decade in all the districts. Where have the missing girl child gone!

The preliminary information through field studies reveals that female foeticide is going on in a big way and this fact is collaborated by the census report of 2001, on child sex ratio in Uttarakhand. The issue of female foeticide was a point for investigation at the time of conducting fieldwork and workshop to draw up District Action Plans for Health in Uttarakhand.

The issue of female foeticide was recorded through interviews and group discussions with the health staff, Panchayati Raj Institutions representatives, NGO workers and social activists. Though the survey had its limitations, the fact that female foeticide was taking place, came out clearly.  Many families have and are going in for selective abortions, though not openly. People going in selective abortion are literate and mobilize resources and funds to avail the services, even if, services are far away from their place of residence. Unfortunately, after having one or two daughters, families make all efforts to go for selective abortions, even if extra funds, effort and health risks are involved.  The situation of child survival and safe motherhood would have been different, had half of that personal family fund and effort were used on antenatal care, nutrition, safe delivery and on immunization.

The table below on child sex ratio shows the declining female child in all the districts of the state.

Child Sex Ratio in the districts

District

Child sex ratio (0-6 year) Point decline

1991

2001

Uttarkashi

957

942

15

Chamoli

968

935

33

Rudrapryag

968

953

15

Tehri Garhwal

970

927

43

Dehradun

944

894

50

Garhwal

984

930

54

Pithoragarh

964

902

62

Champawat

946

934

12

Almora

961

933

28

Bageshwar

946

930

16

Nainital

944

910

34

U.S. Nagar

944

913

31

Haridwar

908

862

46

Uttarakhand

949

908

41

The trends in general sex ratio is better and improving, but in the case of child sex ratio the trend is different, for the same decade. This contradiction points to a totally different scenario, of gender equity and also the health status of women and girl child in Uttarakhand. This strongly suggests a high probability of female foeticide in Uttarakhand at an alarming rate.  This is collaborated by the preliminary investigation through interviews and group discussions with the grassroot workers involved in health and developmental activities across the state.

The 2001 census has opened the eyes of the concerned people, though few still cannot digest the fact that female foeticide is taking place in Uttarakhand and that this is going on since the past decade or before. People, who argue against the presence of female foeticide, give the reason, that there are hardly any ultrasound machines in these remote areas. Forget ultrasounds, they say, in a region where even primary health care services are hardly available, we are talking about Ultrasound machines, sex determination tests and abortion services in these undeveloped hill regions.

Some have argued that due to high percentage of female sterilization, generally after having one or two male children, the number of girl child have come down. It is true that in majority of the cases, couples have gone in for sterilization only after having at least a son. If the first born child is a daughter, most couples will check the sex of the foetus to ensure a male heir subsequently.  Further investigations are needed at the household level to collaborate this fact.

The following table shows the preferred sex of the additional child in Uttarakhand, according to the National Family Health Survey – 1998-1999.

Preferred Sex of Additional Child

Preferred Sex

No. of living children

0

1

2

3

4+

Total%

Boy

49.9

52.9

57.5

Girl

0.0

19.8

7.6

Doesn’t matter

26.6

9.9

16.7

Up to God

23.6

17.3

18.2

Total %

100

100

100

100

100

100

No. of women

101

85

45

21

7

259

While health activist and people working in development sector say that the rural primary health care services are in shambles, the numbers of ultrasounds machines have increased in the state and have slowly made their way to smaller towns in the last decade.

According to people associated with the trade, the major manufactures like, Wipro-GE, Toshiba, Siemens and Hitachi and others have been doing a good business, since a decade or so. The ultrasound machines now have get registered, as there is a requirement to have no objection certificate (NOC) from the health department before installing the same. Despite all this, the companies are able to achieve their minimum sales target of one machine per month per district.

Most of these machines are extensively used for sex determination, but nobody is complaining or raising the issue, as it is a good deal and business for all parties concerned, Who will pay the price for the skewed child sex ratio and its consequences in the near future- the state or the society or both?

Analysis of the 2001 census data, points to selective abortions being done by urban population in larger proportion than rural people. The major towns have shown ‘poor’ sex ratio in the 0-6 years age group.

The child sex ratio (CSR) in major towns.

Districts

District figures CSR Major town CSR major town Point decline

from districtUttarkashi

942

Uttarkashi-MB

790

152

Chamoli

935

Chamoli

902

33

Rudrapryag

953

Rudrapryag-M

865

88

Tehri Garhwal

927

Tehri –MB

886

41

Dehradun

894

Dehradun-MC

868

26

 Mussorrie-MB

864

30

 Rishikesh-MB

874

20

Garhwal

930

Pauri-MB

889

41

Srinagar-MB

829

101

Kotdwara-MB

846

84

Pithoragarh

902

Pithoragarh-M

819

83

Champawat

934

Champawat-NP

839

95

Almora

933

Almora-MB

902

31

  Ranikhet-CB

856

77

Bageshwar

930

Bageshwar-MB

838

92

Nainital

910

Nainital-MB

914

+4

Haldwani-MB

876

34

U.S. Nagar

913

Rudrapur-MB

888

25

  Gadarpur-MB

782

131

Haridwar

862

Haridwar-MB

866

+4

  Roorkee-MB

836

26

The ‘plain’ district of Haridwar has a very poor sex ratio in the entire state. The comparison of the child sex ratio of the districts with that of its major towns, clearly show a big decline in the number female child. The further decline in the number of female child as seen in urban settings cannot be natural phenomenon. The decline of female infants and children can be collaborated with the male and female figures in ICDS reports, immunization and primary school enrollment reports, of the past decade and of the past few years.

The fertility rate in Uttarakhand is also coming down as people have accepted and largely adopted the small family norm. The table below shows the ideal number of children, as reported in National Family Health Survey of 1998-1999 for Uttarakhand.

Ideal Number of Children

Ideal No.

No. of living children

0

1

2

3

4+

0

0.7

00

0.8

1.8

1.8

1

5.9

10.0

1.8

1.6

0.8

2

55.3

66.6

66.1

26.6

16.8

3

23.5

15.5

20.9

51.1

21.9

4

29.0

2.7

5.2

13.7

39.1

5

00

00

00

0.3

5.7

6+

00

00

0.9

00

3.2

Non- respon.

5.6

5.1

4.4

4.9

10.6

Total %

100

100

100

100

100

The small family norms and preference for son have all contributed to the increasing phenomenon of female foeticide in the state. Some of the reasons recorded in the field, for son preference was, the increasing demand for dowry, a son to carry forward the name and inheritance, for old age security and to perform rites and rituals. Sons are preferred over daughters for number of reasons and many studies have shown this aspects.( Arnold et al, 2002; Kishore, 1993; Das gupta, 1987; Das Gupta and Mari Bhat, 1997; Basu, 1989, Miller, 1981; Caldwell and Caldwell, 1990, Mutharayappa, R. et al, 1997 )

The hills of Uttarakhand do not have a history or culture of female infanticide. There is also no apparent discrimination towards girl child in terms of food, medical care and other child care facilities. Preliminary survey shows, people across different social and economic categories have resorted to selective abortions. The fact that effective implementation of the Pre-Natal Sex Determination Act, will bear some positive result, but it is quite apparent that there lies so many other socio-religious and economic reasons, which lead to female foeticides.

Though it would be difficult to elicit information on determinants of selective abortion from couples who have actually gone in for selective abortion, some study still needs to be undertaken at the household level, to appreciate the problem and trend of declining female child in the state. A study also needs to look into the fact, whether the general sex ratio of the state is comparatively better, after inclusion of male migrant members in the household sample.

The state is yet to visualize the gravity of the problem and the alarming trends. A skewed sex ratio, in turn, can have serious implications for future population structure and lead to social problems. To arrest this trend, we need to have policy, plans and programmes to address the wider problem related to women’s well-being and agency.

References:

  1. Arnold, F., M.K.Choe, and T.K.Roy. 1998. “ Son Preference, the family building process and child mortality in India.” Population studies 52:301-15
  1. Basu, A.M. 1989.“Is discrimination in food really necessary for explaining sex differentials in childhood mortality?” Population studies 43:193-210
  1. Bhat, P.N.M. 1989. “ Mortality and fertility in India, 1981-1991: A reassessment,” Pp.73-118 in India’s historical demography: studies in famine, disease and society, edited b T.Dyson. London:Curzon.
  1. Budakoti, D.K. 1988. “Study of the community and community health work in two primary health centres in chamoli district of Uttar Pradesh.” M.Phil. Dissertation, Centre for social medicine and community health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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  1. Dre’ze, Jean and Amartya sen. 1995. India: Economic Development and Social opportunity, Oxford University press, Delhi.
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  1. Government of Uttarakhand. 2002. Health and Population policy of Uttarakhand, Dept. of Medical health and family welfare. December 2002. Dehradun
  1. Gulati, S.C, Suresh Sharma. “Fertility and RCH status in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh: A district level analysis”, Population Research Centre, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi.
  1. International Institute for population studies (IIPS), 2002. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-II)- 1998-99. Uttarakhand, IIPS, Mumbai.
  2. India, Registrar general.2001. Population tables, Census of India-2001, Uttarakhand.
  3. Kishore, s. 1993. “ May god give son to all: Gender and child mortality in India.” American sociological review 58:247-65.
  1. Miller, B.D. 1981. The endangered sex: Neglect of female children in rural north India. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University press.
  1. Mutharayappa,R. et al 1997. Son preference and its effect on fertility in India, IIPS, Mumbai.
  1. Srinivasan. K. 1994. “ Sex Ratios: What they hide and what they reveal,” Economic and Political Weekly, 29: 3233-34.
  1. Ramanama A and Bambawala V, 1980. “The Mania for Sons: An Analysis of Social Values in South Asia,” Social Sciences and Medicine, 143, (12): 107-110.

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