According to a research published in the Lancet Global Health, hundreds of thousands of young girls die each year in India after being neglected because of society’s preference for boys.
An average of 2,39,000 girls under five die every year, which takes the numbers to 2.4 million in a decade, claim researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in a medical journal The Lancet. The estimated figure does not include sex-selective abortions.
“The average level of excess female under-5 mortality was 18·5 per 1,000 live births (95% CI 13·1–22·6) in 2000–05. 1,78,100 (2%) of 13·0 million girls born during the study period died because of sex discrimination, which means that 22% of the overall mortality burden of young girls in India is attributable to gender bias. This excess mortality translates into an average of 2,39,000 (95% CI 169 000–293 000) excess deaths of girls aged 0–4 years per year, or 2·4 million per decade”, said the journal.
As per the study, 29 of 35 states and union territories in the country were affected by a significant amount of excess mortality. The highest rates of excess female mortality in childhood were in northern India. The states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh accounted for two-thirds of deaths, researchers noted. However, almost no excess female mortality was reported in most of southern India.
Mortality rates for girls under five is supposed to be lower than those for boys due to a natural biological advantage, under natural conditions and in countries where no such gender bias exists. While, countries like India, things are much different.
In India, many of the reported deaths have been due to deliberate neglect in health-seeking behaviour as well as the invisible routine bias in food allocation. The mechanisms of gender discrimination are complex and multi-layered. Unfair distribution of resources and discriminatory treatment of boys and girls in intra-household health-care and food allocation is at the core of excess female mortality.
“Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn’t simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born,” said study co-author Christophe Guilmoto of Paris Descartes University.
“Gender equity is not only about rights to education, employment or political representation; it is also about care, vaccination, and nutrition of girls, and ultimately survival,” Guilmoto added.
Contrary to variations of skewed birth masculinity, the social composition of the population had a negligible role in variations of excess female under-5 mortality. However, when other variables are introduced in the regression, the analysis shows the mitigating effect of specific compositional variables: female under-5 mortality is significantly decreased among Muslim and tribal (Scheduled Tribes) populations. These correlations are consistent with findings showing that preference of a son tends to be more pronounced among specific religious groups, such as Hindus, says the research.
Development variables have a strong and mostly beneficial effect on excess mortality, an effect that is still strong when socioeconomic and spatial factors are added to the model. Access to electricity and employment outside agriculture and household work significantly reduces postnatal excess mortality. High fertility is the strongest predictor of postnatal discrimination against girls, suggesting that excess deaths of girls are partly a consequence of unwanted childbearing and ensuing neglect of female children. All sex variables are positively correlated with excess mortality, which means that relatively high female literacy and work participation significantly reduces the risk of excess under-5 mortality.