Despite growing literacy, modern education and social campaigns against gender discrimination, the preference for sons is still very prevalent among Indian families. The Economic Survey has brought out a disturbing set of facts regarding the gender divide in the country. Many parents are opting to continue having children till they have the desired number of sons. This is hurting girl children by reducing the resources available to them in a society that nurtures deep-seated bias against the girl child. The survey estimates that as a result of this son preference, India could have as many as 21 million ‘unwanted girls,’ the girls whose parents wanted to have sons instead. It has been estimated that nearly 63 million women were ‘missing’ from India’s population because the preference for sons had led to sex-selective abortions and more care being given to boys. Despite being illegal, sex-determination tests are rampant in the country. The girls suffer disproportionately from disease, neglect and inadequate nutrition. It is time society got rid of this cultural bias against the girl child. The skewed male-female ratio has reached an alarming level in many States. In Punjab and Haryana, there are 1,200 boys under the age of seven for every 1,000 girls of the same age group. Unfortunately, the deep-rooted gender bias and patriarchal upbringing have become part of our cultural narrative right from the birth of a girl child. Economic and cultural reasons such as property passing on to sons rather than daughters, dowry burden and daughters being treated as ‘property’ of their in-laws post-marriage are some of the factors that contribute to the preference for boys.
A massive public awareness initiative is needed to change the mindset if India has to become a modern society that celebrates gender equality in every sphere. Compulsory inclusion of gender equality in school curriculum will go a long way in removing these deep-rooted biases. Comparing the demographic data from 1991 to 2011, the Economic Survey found that even as incomes rose across different States in India, the sex ratio has declined. This only proves that cultural bias is not linked to one’s economic status. In 1961, India’s sex ratio was 976 girls for every 1,000 boys and the ratio has been consistently declining — 945 girls in 1991, 927 in 2001 and 919 in 2011. States like Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat are far below the national average of 919. It is estimated that in the last decade alone, eight million girls have been lost. The survey shows that 65% of the ‘last child’ is a male, which means that if the last child of an Indian couple is a male, then 65% of them will not have any more children.