The latest figures from India’s national census make for grim reading. Between 2001 and 2011 the gender ratio (number of girls compared to number of boys per thousand) worsened, with only 914 girls for every 1000 boys being recorded, down from a ratio of 974:1000 in 1961. Some of the worst offending states, especially Haryana, did see slight improvements, but this was more than offset by the decline in Southern India, which traditionally has been less anti-female than the north. Much of the gap is due female foetuses being aborted. But infanticide (the killing of babies/infants) is also widespread, with young girls being murdered all over India.
What though can be done about it? Lifting people out of poverty is often the answer to many issues, but not this one. In the last twenty years, India has got richer, yet the gender imbalance is worse. It is often richer families who abort female foetuses, as they have access to ultrasounds and the money to pay for an abortion. As Rita Banerji’s article last week showed, such attitudes still exist in the (comparatively) wealthy Indian diasporas in the West, and this is only likely to worsen, as more Indians get access to affordable ultrasound machines.
A lack of females should make baby girls more valuable, as parents of men compete for the right for their son to marry, but sadly, this is not the case either. What is happening is that girls are being kidnapped from other areas, or else bought as slave brides, as has been happening in China, another imbalanced area, for the last few years. It is dowry which lies at the heart of this system, as the huge cost of marriage for daughters makes them less attractive then sons. Despite being illegal, dowry combines with other anti-female attitudes to create a toxic environment for girls.
Indian activists have long battled against these problems, but have received little help from the state. In Bihar, this is changing though. Bihar, an Indian state, used to be the worst-run state in India, Under the excellent Nitish Kumar though, it is becoming a model for development and progress. In 2007 the state set up a scheme to make having daughters more attractive in poor families:
Under the scheme, the state invests 2,000 rupees ($44; $27) in a fund in the name of the girl. The money grows along with the child – once she reaches 18, officials say it will be worth about 10 times that amount, and could be used to pay for her wedding or to fund a college education.
The scheme is available only to those living below the poverty line and a family can enrol just two daughters.
Bihar also gives money to families when their girls continue in school. Clearly this alone cannot solve the massive gender imbalances, but it is a good start in a country where activists and well-meaning but ignored laws often form the only barriers to massive economic and cultural pressures.
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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,Sex equality