India's unwanted girls
- 23 May 2011 Last updated at 00:19 GMT
India's unwanted girls
India's 2011 census shows a serious decline in the number of girls under the age of seven - activists fear eight million female foetuses may have been aborted in the past decade. The BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi explores what has led to this crisis.
Kulwant has three daughters aged 24, 23 and 20 and a son who is 16.
In the years between the birth of her third daughter and her son, Kulwant became pregnant three times.
My mother-in-law said if I had a daughter, my husband would leave me. Thankfully, I had a son.”Deepali Sah Health worker
Each time, she says, she was forced to abort the foetus by her family after ultrasound tests confirmed that they were girls.
"My mother-in-law taunted me for giving birth to girls. She said her son would divorce me if I didn't bear a son."
Kulwant still has vivid memories of the first abortion. "The baby was nearly five months old. She was beautiful. I miss her, and the others we killed," she says, breaking down, wiping away her tears.
Until her son was born, Kulwant's daily life consisted of beatings and abuse from her husband, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Once, she says, they even attempted to set her on fire.
"They were angry. They didn't want girls in the family. They wanted boys so they could get fat dowries," she says.
India outlawed dowries in 1961, but the practice remains rampant and the value of dowries is constantly growing, affecting rich and poor alike.
Kulwant's husband died three years after the birth of their son. "It was the curse of the daughters we killed. That's why he died so young," she says.
How girls are valued varies widely across India. Over the years, most states in the south and north-east have been kind to their girls, and sex ratios are above the national average.
In the matrilineal societies of Kerala and Karnataka in the south and Meghalaya in the north-east, women have enjoyed high status and commanded respect. But the latest census figures show the good news even in these areas could be turning bad. A minor decline in the number of girls has begun in the three states which, campaigners worry, might be indicative of a trend.
What is seen as most distressing is the steep decline in the number of girls under seven in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and in Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura in the north-east. Even though these states have registered numbers much higher than the national average, the decline is too substantial to ignore.
But all is not lost. Some states, such as Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh - which saw the gap between numbers of boys and girls widen in 2001 - have shown an improvement. That is cause for some cheer, campaigners say.
Her neighbour Rekha is mother of a chubby three-year-old girl.
Last September, when she became pregnant again, her mother-in-law forced her to undergo an abortion after an ultrasound showed that she was pregnant with twin girls.
"I said there's no difference between girls and boys. But here they think differently. There's no happiness when a girl is born. They say the son will carry forward our lineage, but the daughter will get married and go off to another family."
Kulwant and Rekha live in Sagarpur, a lower middle-class area in south-west Delhi.
Here, narrow minds live in homes separated by narrow lanes.
The women's story is common and repeated in millions of homes across India, and it has been getting worse.
In 1961, for every 1,000 boys under the age of seven, there were 976 girls. Today, the figure has dropped to a dismal 914 girls.
Although the number of women overall is improving (due to factors such as life expectancy), India's ratio of young girls to boys is one of the worst in the world after China.
Many factors come into play to explain this: infanticide, abuse and neglect of girl children.
But campaigners say the decline is largely due to the increased availability of antenatal sex screening, and they talk of a genocide.
The government has been forced to admit that its strategy has failed to put an end to female foeticide.'National shame'
"Whatever measures have been put in over the past 40 years have not had any impact on the child sex ratio," Home Secretary GK Pillai said when the census report was released.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described female foeticide and infanticide as a "national shame" and called for a "crusade" to save girl babies.
But Sabu George, India's best-known campaigner on the issue, says the government has so far shown little determination to stop the practices.Campaigners say India's strategy to protect female babies is not working
Until 30 years ago, he says, India's sex ratio was "reasonable". Then in 1974, Delhi's prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences came out with a study which said sex-determination tests were a boon for Indian women.
It said they no longer needed to produce endless children to have the right number of sons, and it encouraged the determination and elimination of female foetuses as an effective tool of population control.
"By late 80s, every newspaper in Delhi was advertising for ultrasound sex determination," said Mr George.
"Clinics from Punjab were boasting that they had 10 years' experience in eliminating girl children and inviting parents to come to them."
In 1994, the Pre-Natal Determination Test (PNDT) Act outlawed sex-selective abortion. In 2004, it was amended to include gender selection even at the pre-conception stage.
Abortion is generally legal up to 12 weeks' gestation. Sex can be determined by a scan from about 14 weeks.
"What is needed is a strict implementation of the law," says Varsha Joshi, director of census operations for Delhi. "I find there's absolutely no will on the part of the government to stop this."
Today, there are 40,000 registered ultrasound clinics in the country, and many more exist without any record.'Really sad'
Ms Joshi, a former district commissioner of south-west Delhi, says there are dozens of ultrasound clinics in the area. It has the worst child sex ratio in the capital - 836 girls under seven for every 1,000 boys.
Something's really wrong here and something has to be done to put things right”Varsha Joshi Delhi census chief
Delhi's overall ratio is not much better at 866 girls under seven for every 1,000 boys.
"It's really sad. We are the capital of the country and we have such a poor ratio," Ms Joshi says.
The south-west district shares its boundary with Punjab and Haryana, the two Indian states with the worst sex ratios.
Since the last census, Punjab and Haryana have shown a slight improvement. But Delhi has registered a decline.
"Something's really wrong here and something has to be done to put things right," Ms Joshi says.
Almost all the ultrasound clinics in the area have the mandatory board outside, proclaiming that they do not carry out illegal sex-determination tests.
But the women in Sagarpur say most people here know where to go when they need an ultrasound or an abortion.
They say anyone who wants to get a foetal ultrasound done, gets it done. In the five-star clinics of south Delhi it costs 10,000-plus rupees ($222; £135), In the remote peripheral areas of Delhi's border, it costs a few hundred rupees.
Similarly, the costs vary for those wanting an illegal abortion.
Delhi is not alone in its anti-girl bias. Sex ratios have declined in 17 states in the past decade, with the biggest falls registered in Jammu and Kashmir.
Ms Joshi says most offenders are members of the growing middle-class and affluent Indians - they are aware that the technology exists and have the means to pay to find out the sex of their baby and abort if they choose.
"We have to take effective steps to control the promotion of sex determination by the medical community. And file cases against doctors who do it," Mr George says.
"Otherwise by 2021, we are frightened to think what it will be like."31 March 2011 Last updated at 15:00 GMT
India census: population goes up to 1.21bnIndia has a diverse population of a billion-plus people
India's population has grown by 181 million people over the past decade to 1.21bn, according to the 2011 census.
More people now live in India than in the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan and Bangladesh combined.
India is on course to overtake China as the world's most populous nation by 2030, but its growth rate is falling, figures show. China has 1.3bn people.
The census also reveals a continuing preference for boys - India's sex ratio is at its worst since independence.
Female foeticide remains common in India, although sex-selective abortion based on ultrasound scans is illegal. Sons are still seen by many as wage-earners for the future.
Statistics show fewer girls than boys are being born or surviving. The gender imbalance has widened every decade since independence in 1947.
According to the 2011 census, there were 914 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of six, compared with 927 for every 1,000 boys in the 2001 census.
"This is a matter of grave concern," Census Commissioner C Chandramauli told a press conference in the capital, Delhi.
Government officials said they would review all their policies towards this issue, which they admitted were failing.
Indians now make up 17% of the world's population. Uttar Pradesh remains its most populous state, with 199 million people.
INDIA CENSUS FACTS
- Current population: 1,210,193,422
- Males: 623,724,248
- Females: 586,469,174
- Increase 2001-2011: 181m
- 15th census since 1872
- Estimated cost 22bn rupees ($490m; £300m)
The statistics show India's massive population growing at a significant rate - 181 million is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Brazil.
But the rate of that growth is slower than at any time since 1947. The 2011 census charts a population increase of 17.6%, compared with one of 21.5% over the previous decade.
The BBC's Mark Dummett in Delhi says the slowing growth rate suggests that efforts to promote birth control and female education are working.
In the field of education there was good news, with the census showing the literacy rate going up to 74% from about 65% in the last count.
India launched the 2011 census last year. The exercise costs in the region of 22bn rupees ($490m; £300m).
Some 2.7 million officials visited households in about 7,000 towns and 600,000 villages, classifying the population according to gender, religion, education and occupation.
The exercise, conducted every 10 years, faces big challenges, not least India's vast area and diversity of cultures.
Census officials also have to contend with high levels of illiteracy and millions of homeless people - as well as insurgencies by Maoists and other rebels which have left large parts of the country unsafe.