The Economic Survey has mentioned that the desire for a male child has created 21 million “unwanted” girls in India between 0 and 25 years.
Chapter Seven of the Survey, tabled in Parliament on Monday, deals with gender equality. While India has shown improvement in several parameters related to women’s empowerment, the preference for a son has not diminished. “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.
The Survey has taken note of the behavioural pattern of Indian parents who prefer to have children “until the desired number of sons are born.” Calling this the “son meta-preference,” the Survey has found that while an average Indian family prefers to have two children, there are instances where families have more than five children if the last child is not a male.
The biologically determined natural sex ratio at birth is 1050 males per 1000 females. After sex selection was declared illegal in India in 1994, the sex ratio at birth (SRB) began to stabilise. In 1970, the SRB was 1060 males per 1000 females. In 2014, this rose to 1108, contrary to the belief that development would mend the skewed sex ratio.
The sex ratio among families with one child stood at 1.82 i.e., 1820 males per 1000 females. This drops to 1.55 for families with two children and rises to 1.65 for three, and drops to 1.51 and 1.45 for four and five children, respectively. Comparing it with the sex ratio of families where the last child is not a male, it stands at 1.07, 0.86, 0.85, 0.84, 0.88 respectively. This shows the Indian families tend to “stop” having children after a son is born.
The Survey pointed out several reasons behind preferring a male child such as compulsion of a woman to move to her husband’s house post marriage, inheritance of property, rituals performed by sons, and dowry, among others.
Male child preference lowest in Meghalaya
The male child preference is highest in Punjab and Haryana and lowest in Meghalaya. More than 2 million women go missing across age groups every year either due to sex-selective abortion, disease, neglect, or inadequate nutrition, according to the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS).
While more women are educated, employed and earning than 10 years ago, they still do not have control over their earnings and childbirth. Quoting the NFHS, the Survey pointed out that more women tend to quit their employment after marriage or childbirth.
The Survey recommended that the nation must confront the societal preference for male offspring. Noting that schemes such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, enhanced maternity leave and mandatory creches in workplaces are steps in the right direction, the Survey called for a stronger commitment on the gender front similar to the government’s push for Ease of Doing Business.