February 23rd, 2012 | Posted in Gender
by Carl Haub, senior demographer
The abortion of female fetuses in India following a sex determination test, such as ultrasound, has gained worldwide attention. The preference for male children is quite evident in the sex ratio (SRB) at birth as reported in the Sample Registration System (SRS) of the office of the Registrar General of India (RGI). The SRS is a monthly survey of about 1.5 million households inquiring about the number of births, deaths, and infant deaths. As in any survey, errors in reporting undoubtedly occur but the SRS is a remarkable source of demographic information for a developing country. The latest survey data on the sex ratio at birth has been released for the 2007-2009 period. Three-year periods are given by the RGI to smooth out year-to-year fluctuations in reported vital events.
The three graphs below show the SRB for 16 states with the largest population, beginning with 1999-2001, the first period for which data were published. India publishes SRB data the reverse of most other countries, female births per 1,000 male births. Globally, the normal biological SRB is 5 percent more male than female births. So, in India, about 950 female per 1,000 male births would be considered normal (as in, absent any sex-selective abortion). The first graph is for the poorest-performing states, the second for those in the middle, and the third for the best-performing states. (Click on each graph for a full-size version)
The government has been waging a campaign to protect the girl child for some years using print and media advertisements, rewards for villages that discontinue the practice, and the prosecution of doctors. Sex-selective abortion has been illegal since 1994. Clearly, there has been considerable improvement in the SRB since 1999-2001 but it has been uneven and now shows signs of slowing down.
The northwestern states of Punjab and Haryana have been the worst offenders. Haryana, formerly part of Punjab, was created in 1966 and borders Delhi to the north, west, and south. In 1999-2001, these states had very low SRBs of just 775 and 803, respectively. While they have since risen to 836 and 849, the last three SRS reports show a worrying tendency for the SRB rise to have leveled off. A low birth rate is often considered motivation for sex-selective abortion as male children could be more valued when couples have few children but that pattern is definitely not uniform across India. In Punjab, the total fertility rate (TFR — the average number of children a woman would bear in her lifetime in the birth rate of a particular year were to remain unchanged) was 1.9 in 2008 and 2.5 in Haryana. But it was also low in Karnataka (2.0) and Kerala (1.7), states with SRBs in the normal range. And, the two states with the highest TFRs, Bihar (3.9) and Uttar Pradesh (3.8), have low SRBs. Together, those latter two states hold 300 million population, one-fourth of India’s total. In the second graph, the middle level states, improvement has basically ended for now.
Nationally, India’s SRB has risen from 894 in 1999-2001 to 906 in 2007-2009, not a spectacular achievement given that sex selective abortion has been a punishable offense since 1994. Given the most recent trend, the government’s campaign for the girl child may face rough seas ahead.
Please see my previous blog post on India’s SRB for additional information.