Around 2.9 lakh girls were missing at birth due to sex selection in 2012, lower than the annual average of 3.3 lakh for the period 2007-12, according to data compiled under the Sample Registration System (SRS) and released by the Registrar General of India last month.
Some 5.8 lakh girls were missing every year on average during the period 2001-06. The number of “missing girls” is the difference between the actual sex ratio at birth (SRB) and natural SRB — or, the difference between the actual number of girls born, and the number of girls who would have been born if the SRB was 948.7 girls per 1,000 boys.
Data on SRB is generated by the Sample Registration System (SRS), and published as a 3-year moving average. Because the data is subject to sampling errors, the number of missing girls is only an estimate.
4.56 lakh girls were missing on average every year for the period 2001-12. The reason is sex-selective abortions, which though declining in number, continues in the country.
During the period 2001-12, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Maharashtra together accounted for more than 70% (3.3 lakh out of 4.56 lakh) of the girls missing at birth annually in India. During the second half of this period (2007-12), these states accounted for an even larger proportion of missing girls – over 83% of the all-India total (2.75 lakh out of 3.29 lakh).
Punjab and Haryana saw the highest proportion of female births that did not take place annually out of the total female births during the first half of this period: 17% for Punjab and 13.4% for Haryana. These states showed an improvement in the trends during 2007-12.
Himachal Pradesh presents a unique picture, with an almost restored natural sex ratio at birth — data show 943 girls were born per 1,000 boys in the state during 2011-13.
The SRS data show that the number of girls born for every 1,000 boys has been steadily rising, and SRB for India during 2011-13 was 909 girls per 1,000 boys. Though the rate of improvement has plateaued in the last 5-7 years, the numbers of girls missing at birth are not as bad as they used to be a decade ago.
The data show that in Punjab, 867 girls were born per 1,000 boys in 2011-13, as against 841 girls/1,000 boys in 2009-11. In Haryana, the corresponding figures were 864 and 854.
The decline in the number of girls missing at birth since 2004 needs to be perceived against the backdrop of the legal, policy and programmatic measures taken to address gender-biased sex-selection, and community dynamics in response to its consequences, Prof P M Kulkarni from JNU, who along with others analysed the SRS data, said.
Chhattisgarh (970), Kerala (966) and Karnataka (958) top the SRB chart from SRS for the period 2011-13. There is increasing concern, however, at the numbers coming out of central Maharashtra, especially the district of Beed, and surrounding areas, Kulkarni said.
Maharashtra has strictly implemented the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, which is reflected in the improvement in the number of girls born, to 902 per 1,000 boys in 2011-13 from 893 during 2009-11. However, while the situation has improved in the formerly worst affected Sangli, Satara, Solapur and Kolhapur districts, alarm bells are ringing in Beed, Jalgaon and Aurangabad, Kulkarni said.
SRB is a more reliable indicator of the extent of gender-biased sex-selection because it is not affected by post-birth factors such as differential mortality or age misreporting.
SRB declined progressively during the first half of the decade 2000-10, dropping to an alarming 880 in 2003-05. It improved steadily after that, reaching 906 in 2007-09. According to the recent SRS report, the SRB for India for 2011-13 is 909/1,000 boys, having stagnated in recent years.
According to United Nations Population Fund Agency experts who also analysed the SRS data, the initial years of the period 2001-12 saw a substantial number of girls missing at birth each year, with the figure peaking to an estimated 7 lakh in 2004. The number of girls missing at birth declined in each successive year after that.