NEW DELHI: The ratio of women to men among India’s young people, which has been low in India compared with Western nations for decades, will drop further in the coming years, the Indian government reported recently.
For people ages 15 to 34, the number of women for every 1,000 men will drop to 898 in 2031 from 939 in 2011, the report says, using projections from the World Bank. That decline outpaces a more modest drop in the sex ratio among the general population in the same period, and indicates the continuing practice of sex-selective abortion, experts say.
The report, by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, was published in March.
Evidence of the abortion of female fetuses emerged strongly in the 1980s and has continued since then, in part because of the introduction and proliferation of ultrasound technology. The sex ratio in the general population dropped to 927 in 1991, census data show, and has rebounded slightly since.
Among the reasons for Indians’ preference for a male child are the perception that men will take care of their aging parents financially, a desire to pass lineage through a male heir and a fear of being financially crippled by the dowry. But the report highlights what would appear to be a paradox: Even as fertility declines, and as incomes and education increase, the process of sex-selective abortion continues unabated.
“People are selecting to have fewer children but selecting to have boys,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a nongovernmental organization.
India outlawed prenatal sex determination in 1994, but enforcement is lax. Muttreja said that as income levels rise, so do aspirations, and as Indians emerge into the middle class they are limiting the size of their families and focusing their resources on male children, who are seen to offer a better return on investment. The fertility rate of women in urban areas has come down to just over two children per woman in 2014, down from more than five in 1971.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign, which translates to Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter, aimed at raising awareness about the harm of sex selection.
But Muttreja said that the campaign “cannot be just a slogan,” adding: “We have to do a lot more in changing social norms.”