While the latest, the fourth National Family Health Survey, (NFHS 4 conducted in 2015-16), shows that critical indicators of women’s empowerment like literacy, economic empowerment (women with bank accounts/mobile phones) have shown a dramatic improvement and domestic violence and child marriages are down, the girl child still remains unwanted.
The sex ratio at birth (number of girls per 1,000 boys) for children born in the last five years showed a dip in most major states although the overall national figure went up marginally from 914 in the last survey (NFHS 3, conducted in 2005-06) to 919.
However, for urban areas the gap between the overall sex ratio in the state and that for births in the last five years was glaring in some cases.
Some states where sex ratio at birth for children born in the last five years has gone down compared to NFHS 3 data: Delhi, Assam, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. States where it has gone up include: Maharashtra, Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Punjab. Consider these:
1. In Assam, the overall sex ratio in urban areas is 996 women per 1,000 men but for children born in the last 5 years, it is 794.
2. In West Bengal, the overall sex ratio in urban areas is 991 but for those born in last five years it is 902.
3. In Haryana — the state where Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme two years ago — the overall urban sex ratio is 846 but that at birth for children born in the last five years is 785. Haryana has shown significant improvement since the last survey. According to data for the period 2000-2001 to 2005-06, the sex ratio was 762. That figure has gone up to 846.
4. In Gujarat, the overall sex ratio in urban areas is 907 but for births in the last five years it is 835.
Chandigarh is one of those rare places where the last five years’ sex ratio at birth is better than the overall sex ratio — 981 and 934 respectively. In Maharashtra, the sex ratio for the last five years has gone up from 867 in NFHS 3 to 924 in NFHS 4, but in urban areas, while the overall sex ration is 935, that for children born in the last five years is 920.
Between NFHS 3 and NFHS 4, women’s literacy has gone up from 55.1% to 68.4% and child marriages are down from 47.4% to 26.8%; 84% women participate in household decisions against 76.5% 10 years ago, 53% have bank accounts against 15% earlier, and spousal violence is down from 37.2% to 28.8%.
Sex ratio has traditionally been worse in urban areas than rural because of better access to technology and trained doctors. However, the fact that it has gone further downhill in the last five years, experts say, is because little has changed in mindsets on the ground.
Says Poonam Muttreja of the Population Foundation of India: “A slogan is not enough to change mindsets; social norms do not change that easily. The PNDT Act (meant to crack down on sex-selective abortions) is ineffective. We need a plan, a strategy to change behaviour. There is better access to sex selection technology now even in rural areas. On the other hand, total fertility is going down. So while people have less children, they want more boys. The same thing happened in China when the fertility rate went down.”
The survey covered 6 lakh households used Census definitions of urban and rural areas. An urban area is one with a minimum population of 5,000, at least 75% of male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits, and with a density of persons that is at least 400 per square km.
Nutan Guha Biswas, additional secretary in the Ministry of Women and Child Development who deals with the Beti Bachao programme declined to comment.