Will Indian Society Finally Wake Up?

Hello there,

It isn’t often I blog about social issues but the one we have at the moment is one I deem important enough to the extent that overlooking it would be impossible. We are talking about a further, alarming, skewing of the child sex ratio in India, as reported by in a research paper in the Lancet. The paper in question is “Trends in selective abortions of girls in India: analysis of nationally representative birth histories from 1990 to 2005 and census data from 1991 to 2011, Jha et al, The Lancet, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60649-1″ which you may access for free upon registering on The Lancet website here

The abstract of the study reads thus


India’s 2011 census revealed a growing imbalance between the numbers of girls and boys aged 0—6 years, which we postulate is due to increased prenatal sex determination with subsequent selective abortion of female fetuses. We aimed to establish the trends in sex ratio by birth order from 1990 to 2005 with three nationally representative surveys and to quantify the totals of selective abortions of girls with census cohort data.


We assessed sex ratios by birth order in 0•25 million births in three rounds of the nationally representative National Family Health Survey covering the period from 1990 to 2005. We estimated totals of selective abortion of girls by assessing the birth cohorts of children aged 0—6 years in the 1991, 2001, and 2011 censuses. Our main statistic was the conditional sex ratio of second-order births after a firstborn girl and we used 3-year rolling weighted averages to test for trends, with differences between trends compared by linear regression.

The conditional sex ratio for second-order births when the firstborn was a girl fell from 906 per 1000 boys (99% CI 798—1013) in 1990 to 836 (733—939) in 2005; an annual decline of 0•52% (p for trend=0•002). Declines were much greater in mothers with 10 or more years of education than in mothers with no education, and in wealthier households compared with poorer households. By contrast, we did not detect any significant declines in the sex ratio for second-order births if the firstborn was a boy, or for firstborns. Between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, more than twice the number of Indian districts (local administrative areas) showed declines in the child sex ratio as districts with no change or increases. After adjusting for excess mortality rates in girls, our estimates of number of selective abortions of girls rose from 0—2•0 million in the 1980s, to 1•2—4•1 million in the 1990s, and to 3•1—6•0 million in the 2000s. Each 1% decline in child sex ratio at ages 0—6 years implied 1•2—3•6 million more selective abortions of girls. Selective abortions of girls totalled about 4•2—12•1 million from 1980—2010, with a greater rate of increase in the 1990s than in the 2000s.

Selective abortion of girls, especially for pregnancies after a firstborn girl, has increased substantially in India. Most of India’s population now live in states where selective abortion of girls is common.

They basically carried out analysis of statistics from a survey they organized, the Indian National Health Survey, and Census data from 2011 and 2001, they used a rolling three year average of chid sex ratios for evaluation and they subjected the values from it to linear regression analysis, which is used to identify trends. You may read more about the use of rolling averages here and Linear Regression Analysis here
They accounted for factors such as female infant mortality due to non-abortion reasons et cetera to arrive at a standard that we should expect to see if sex selective abortions were absent, and this is what renders their analysis rigorous.

Some of the findings that have emerged from the study are downright shocking.

Firstly, it would appear that the number of sex-selective abortions as far as girl children were concerned, based on an estimate which they derived using a conditional measure based only on second-born female chidren seems to have shot up drastically, of course, while it appears that the rate of increase is not as rapid in the past decade as opposed to the ‘nineties, the increase in number is rather worrisome.

Secondly, perhaps even more shockingly, the prevalence of sex-selective abortions based on their estimates seems to be more in cases where i) Mothers were educated ii)Households were richer, which is especially alarming. It would also appear that the number of districts in India from which further skewing of the Child sex ratio has been reported has also increased, the conclusion from this being that the practise is on its way up and is spreading nationally. The authors of the paper suspect this may be to do with the ability to afford ultrasound (which is used for sex determination)

The implication of this is that we’ll start to end up with more men than women in Indian society in the next generation (since the current cohort being studied and subjected to evaluation will grow up to be the men and women who define it) and if the problem isn’t dealt with quickly, we will, on a national level, end up with a severe disparity in the number of men and women, and with all the responsibilities women currently hold in the Indian setup and all they do, it could have major social repercussions.

One of the most striking trends that emerges from the published data is the spread of the phenomenon, using data from three decades to see what proportion of the population had a skewed child sex ratios, the authors found that 56% of the population of India lives in states where the child sex ratio (CSR) is skewed, as opposed to 10% in 1991 and 27% in 2001, which would indicate that the spread of Sex-selective abortion has been spreading to more and more places in the country.

I have cited a graph from the original paper under fair use conditions for purposes of scholarship and education that illustrates this.

Distribution of the total population living in states with varying child sex ratios (girls per 1000 boys at ages 0—6 years), 1991, 2001, and 2011 Mean national values for each of the censuses are shown. The vertical grey bar represents a natural sex ratio at birth of 950—975 girls per 1000 boys, where the distribution of child sex ratios at ages 0—6 years would be centred in the hypothetical absence of selective abortion of girls and equal girl and boy child mortality rates.

Please right-click the graph and use the menu to bring up a larger image, I hope you can see how the practice has been taking hold in India and how it is increasingly skewing child sex ratios.

Here is a map illustrating geographical changes in child sex ratio, again from the same paper and cited under fair use provisions.

Child sex ratio of girls to boys at ages 0–6 years in 2001 and 2011, by district Of the 623 districts, data were available for 596 in the 2001 census and 588 in the 2011 census. The blue highlighted states are Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Punjab, which have shown consistently lower child sex ratios at ages 0–6 years in the last three censuses. State names are Andhra Pradesh (AP); Assam (AS); Bihar (BR); Chattisgarh (CG); Gujarat (GJ); Haryana (HR); Himachal Pradesh (HP); Jammu and Kashmir (JK); Jharkhand (JH); Karnataka (KA); Kerala (KL); Maharashtra (MH); Orissa (OR); Punjab (PB); Rajasthan (RJ); Tamil Nadu (TN); Uttarakhand (UK); Uttar Pradesh (UP); West Bengal (WB); and Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura (collectively NE).

Again, right-click the map and use the pop-up menu for a larger image.

Further Information and Links

You can also read an article by Kalpana Sharma of The Guardian here , read the BBC’s coverage of the reaction to the data that has emerged in Bihar (which is a very bad offender)
here and in Kashmir here. You can also read a case report on female foeticide and infanticide from Gendercide.org here

Spread the word, share these articles, talk about the issues at hand, pretending there isn’t a problem while maintaining a facade of perfection as a country is going to achieve bugger all! Only when people are willing to come to terms with the presence of a problem can efforts be made to look for solutions, only when there is strong consensus will people begin to make that effort. We just cannot put up with abortions being carried out because a foetus happened to be the second one in gestation and lacked a Y chromosome.

Thanks for reading,now go spread the word.
– Ankur “Exploreable” Chakravarthy.


4 responses to “Will Indian Society Finally Wake Up?

  1. Very frightening. Thank you for your well written information here. This is a human made disaster in the making and is barberous.

  2. Need to wake up!

  3. Thanks for spreading the word! The terrible feet-binding practices in China, which were centuries old, were completely stopped in less then 10 years under Mao!! Ironic, that it happened under Mao — but that’s how it should be with gross human rights violation. That’s what we have to push for in India too! So do join The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s effort towards that on facebook and twitter.

  4. Thanks for spreading the word. I too work in this domain and I am very satisfied to read your article. My company, Sukrut Systems, has developed a system with name “Silent Observer”. This machine is connected to sonography machine to record all sonographies done by doctors. These recorded video images are monitored by district appropriate authority who are responsible for effective implementation of PC & PNDT ACT.

    Although its an innovative product and its overall impact is yet to be measured. We are seen positive results in district of Kolhapur where this project was done on pilot basis in 2010.

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