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Mumbai: At a timewhen provisional data released by the Census of India shows the child sex ratio tanking like the Sensex on a bad day, there’s a question that begs to be asked. Whatistheidealsex ratio? The child sex ratio (0-6 years) has dropped from 976 girls per 1,000 boys in 1961 to 914 girls in 2011. Contrary to popular perception, the ideal sex ratio is not 1,000 girls for 1,000 boys. The science behind the numbers is slightly more complex.
Experts in population science, health and women’s studies say a healthy child
sex ratio works out to around 950-970 girls per 1,000 boys. In other words, the ratio in 1961 was perfect.
This is largely due to the fact that in the early stages of life, girls are hardier and more resistant to disease. In the neo-natal period (0-28 days), the mortality rate is higher for boys. With the result that nature corrects the bias with more boys being born. In the absence of sex selection or neglect, the ratio evens out by adulthood. So, for countries where women are not discriminated against, the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group should be around 950 girls for 1,000 boys, says P Arokiasamy, acting director,InternationalInstitute of Population Science, Mumbai.
The ‘weaker sex’ tag seems inaccurate when it comes to describing women. Ravindra R P, professor and academic head of the school of pharmacy, NMIMS University, Shirpur, calls women the stronger sex, as at birth they can withstand the “rigours of life”. He points out that during pregnancy, more male foetuses undergo spontaneous abortion.
“Biologically, boys are more vulnerable to infectious disease and have a higher mortality rate. While the mortality rate improves by the age of six, if the data for the 0-6 age group is clubbed, it still works out to 950 girls for 1,000 boys. By early adulthood, the numbers even out,” says Arokiasamy. He points to two reasons for India’s pathetic child sex ratio. For starters, girls are discriminated against before birth, thanks to sex selective abortion. After birth, girls are often neglected. There are many forms of neglect, says Arokiasamy. In some cases, girls aren’t given the necessary vaccinations. Add to this the fact that parents often don’t provide girls with the same degree of healthcare that they do for boys.
This, says professor Vibhuti Patel of the SNDT University For Women, is a problem that plagues not just India but at several countries in south and west Asia.