World

India’s female population is dwindling at an alarming rate

Where have all the girls gone?
New Delhi, INDIA: Indian activists of women’s organizations, health networks and civil rights groups hold placards and shout anti-Indian Health Ministry slogans during a protest in New Delhi 19 May 2006. The activists protested against sex selection all over the country, leading to a declining child sex ratio against girls. The activists pointed at private clinics, first established in northern India, providing facilities for sex determination and urged the government to oppose the subsequent selective abortion of female foetuses. A dramatic drop in child sex ratio against girls has been registered in northern Indian states compared to the 1991 census. AFP PHOTO/RAVEENDRAN (Photo credit should read RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Where have all the girls gone?
Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to girls, China gets the bad rap. But it’s not the only country with an overwhelming preference for boys. The 2011 Indian census revealed that there are 7.1 million fewer girls than boys aged under seven. The sex ratio in that age group is now 914 girls to 1,000 boys, the lowest since records began in 1961. And a study released last week concluded the growing gender imbalance is a result of selective abortion of female fetuses.

The study found that selective abortion of Indian girls, especially for pregnancies after a first-born girl, has increased substantially over the past 10 years. It used to be that the phenomenon was restricted to a few northern Indian states, but it is now common throughout India’s population. Prabhat Jha, a University of Toronto professor and author of the study, says the abortions are consistent with the country’s economic development: as fertility drops and a preference for sons continues, families with the means to select the gender of their child will do so. Jha says the repercussions of the skewed ratio are glaring. “In the hardest hit places of India, they’re importing brides,” he says. “There just aren’t enough women.”