Will The Girls Be At A Premium?

11 Jul

Will the girls be at a premium?

Kerala is fast turning into Panchali land, with a steady fall in the number of girl children. There are many who believe that this is a fallout of gender-specific abortion of female foetuses. The IMA denies this. LEELA MENON examines the need for a relook at the demographic profile of the State and its social fallouts on World Population Day today.

WHEN PAUL Ehrlich said we would breed ourselves into oblivion, would he have had India in mind? With its population crossing the one billion mark, India is witnessing a population explosion, with 33 births a minute, 2,000 births in an hour, 48,000 births in a day, and 12 million births a year.

Aastha was the billionth child… the Miss Billionth Baby, with a website of its own called http://www.reportingpeople.org. India’s birth rate is greater even than that of China, as one out of every seven person is believed to be an Indian.

In this stark scenario Kerala remains the benchmark in India, with its zero population growth. While India worries that each birth eats deeper into the country’s shrinking cropland and consumes more of its dwindling water resource and strains the already swamped health care system, steady Kerala, with its zero population growth, is inching into Panchali land,with a steady fall in the population of the girl children.

When population steadies in other States, will Kerala be populated with Panchalis? Every woman having five husbands? Hyperbole? If the ignorance of contraception methods and the son syndrome breeds a population explosion in India, of which half are illiterate, Kerala has progressed from condoms to loops to Norplants, and now to scanning to identify gender and killing the girl child.

It was Nobel Winner Amartya Sen who hailed Kerala’s benchmark as a sign of women’s empowerment, which, according to him, is the key to reduced fertility rates and zero population growth.

Kerala’s growth rate is 13.98 per cent, while that of India is 23.50 per cent. Our fertility rate has held steady at 1.8 for more than 10 years now.

Kerala has always been a woman-friendly state, with more women than men in the population. The 2001 census proves this yet again, with 1,058 males for every1,000 female. However, according to Dr. Irudayarajan of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, the female bias is because of the exclusion of migrant population that exceeds more than a million. While this is yet to be substantiated, a stark reality emerges… . that the female tilt is indeed shifting, as is proved by the last census.

In the 0-6 age group, males are 12.04 while the females are 10.95. This is a significant fall in female population. The decadal growth of population in Kerala is 9.42 per cent. It was 14.32 per cent in 1981/91. The infant mortality rate of 1998 was 16 per cent. “The 2001Census reflects that Kerala is the only State in India where the sex ratio is above the equality ratio, breaking the record of 100 years,”, says the Census report.

Discrimination against the girl child is a national phenomenon manifest in infanticide and female foeticide. “Social and economic development has increased the preference for male children”, says Dr.Irudayarajan. Juvenile sex ratio in Kerala was 1.12 (m/f) in the1981 census. The 1991 census tells a different story with Kannur, Malappuram, Palakkad, Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta registering lower female child mortality. The 2001 census figures will confirm the gender bias with the fall in the number of girl children in 0-6 age group.

Of the 3,653,578 children in the 0-6 age group 1,86,669 were boys ad 1,791,909 were girls. Which means 89,760 girl children are missing. “This is a global trend. For every 109 male children born, only 100 girl children are born”, points out Census Commissioner Sheela Thomas. She adds: “In Kerala, for every 100 girls only 105 boys are born. This is below the global average and hence there is nothing to worry about”. Even the changes in the 0-4 age group show an anti-female graph in 11 districts. A study by Mr IrdudayaRajan and Ms Sudha of the 0-1 sex ratio also saw skewed sex ratios with masculine dominance in urban areas in six districts of Kerala.

The infant mortality rates of males and females in Kerala were 11.5 and 12.9 respectively. According to the Census figures Aluva in Ernakulam has the least number of girl children. Here there are just 917 girl children for 1,000 boys. This is attributed to the high literacy in the commercial capital of Kerala. Even in Kannur, Malappuram, Palakkad and Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta there are fewer girl children.

Is this not a direct fallout of gender-specific abortion of female foetuses? Says Dr. Sheela Shenoy of Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital, “In the past the number in the births of boys and girls used to fluctuate but for the last six months more boys are born than girls”.

According to her sex determination tests and female foeticide might be carried out in private clinics as it needs better care and ensures stricter privacy.

However, Secretary of the Indian Medical Association, Dr.Vinod. B. Nair refutes the perception that there is female foeticide in Kerala. According to him the female ratio in the 0-6 age group has only bettered since the 1991 Census.

“Abortions have of course increased but there is no proof that it is female foeticide. Sex can be identified only in the fifth month and even then it is not foolproof as the identification is through the sighting of the male genitalia and this can be covered by the position of the leg, leading to wrong identification”, says Dr.Nair. He also asserts that no gynaecologist worth her stethoscope will opt for an abortion at the fifth month, considering the risks involved.

The MTP Act is also strict in stipulating that abortion can be resorted to only between the12th and 20th months of pregnancy.

“We resort to abortion only when a couple says it is contraception failure, which is permitted by the MTP Act. That there is at least 20 to 30 per cent contraception failure is an accepted fact”, he adds.

A loophole indeed! Median age of society is also climbing. In 1990 about six per cent of the world’s population was over 65. By 2050 the figure will be 15 to 19 per cent, producing a grey boom.

While the population, aged 60 years and above constituted 6.8 per cent in India, the Kerala percentage was 7.8 per cent in 1981.

Kerala is already greying, with a preponderance of women among the aged. Kerala needs to take a relook at its demographic profile and its possible social fallouts.

Hindu On Net

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