According to an annual survey published by the Indian government, more than 63 million women are “missing” statistically across India. The survey also found that upwards of 21 million girls were unwanted by their families due to a cultural preference for male children.
The report also revealed that an affinity for sons, as opposed to daughters, led to sex-selective abortions, as well as better nutrition and medical care for males. The gender disparity revealed that “families where a son is born are more likely to stop having children than families where a girl is born.” The report’s author, chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, added that “the challenge of gender is long-standing, probably going back millennia,” and suggested that India must “confront the societal preference for boys.”
Many Indian couples continue to have children until they have a son. Subramanian called this a “subtler form” of gender preference, in comparison to sex-selective abortions, and can lead to fewer resources for a girl child. The survey called this phenomenon the son “meta” preference.
According to the World Health Organisation, the natural “sex ratio at birth” is considered to be 1.05, which on average means that there are 105 males for every 100 females. However, the 2017-18 report argues that a long dating cultural preference for sons in India, and its parallel in China – the One Child policy – have created artificial demographic bubbles, where males under 25 now top 50 million in the two countries. Apart from the immediate demographical impact within India and China, this may also have long-term ramifications in areas, such as crime and transnational human trafficking.
The survey indicated that India has made overall improvements in most gender indicators, as the nation has become overall wealthier. However, while tests to determine a fetus’ sex are illegal in India, they still take place illegally and can lead to the aforementioned sex-selective abortions. “Perhaps the area where Indian society — and this goes beyond governments to civil society, communities, and households — needs to reflect on the most is what might be called ‘son preference’ where development is not proving to be an antidote,” the survey suggested. “In some sense, once born, the lives of women are improving but society still appears to want fewer of them to be born,” the Survey stated. Thus, despite social campaigns and awareness drives to end the gender disparity, the preference for sons in India and elsewhere still exists, albeit in a subtler form.
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