In a shocking revelation, the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of the World Report 2020 states that India accounts for 45.8 million of the world’s 142.6 million ‘missing females’ due to gender-based sex selection.
According to the report titled ‘Against my will: defying the practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality’ released by the UNFPA, the number of missing women has doubled over the past 50 years — from 61 million in 1970 to 142.6 million in 2020.
Moreover, estimates show that pre-natal sex selection accounts for two out of the three missing girls in India, while post-birth female mortality is one in three.
“Between 2013 and 2017, about 460,000 girls in India were ‘missing’ at birth each year. According to one analysis, gender-biased sex selection accounts for about two-thirds of the total missing girls, and post-birth female mortality accounts for about one-third,” the report said.
That’s not all. China and India both account for 90 percent of the estimated 1.2 million missing female births annually worldwide due to gender-biased prenatal sex selection, said UNFPA’s Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem, during the virtual conference that was held ahead of the report’s launch.
The report focuses on child marriage, son preference and gender-biased sex selection, and female genital mutilation, said Dr Kanem.
In India, there are at least nine states that have recorded sex ratio at birth below 900, namely, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, and Bihar. In fact, the Sample Registration Statistical Report 2018 says that the sex ratio at birth is 899 for every 1,000 boys.
“Son preference and gender-biased sex selection have resulted in over 142 million girls missing globally and 46 million girls missing in India. This reality is grim and unacceptable and needs to change immediately. Change can only come about by transforming unequal power relations, structures and norms to ensure value for women and girls. We need to move towards a world based on principles of equality, autonomy, and choice,” said Argentina Matavel, UNFPA India Representative.
Although some progress has happened with regard to these practices, COVID-19 might just reverse these figures. According to research, if services and programmes remain unoperational due to the pandemic for the next six months, an additional 13 million girls could be forced into marriage, and two million girls could also be victims of female genital mutilation between now and 2030.
“The pandemic both makes our job harder and more urgent as so many more girls are now at risk,” shared Dr Kanem, “We will not stop until the rights, choices and bodies of all girls are fully their own.”
(Edited by Athira Nair)