Saturday, April 16, 2011

India's Five Million Missing Girls

Discussing preliminary data from the decennial census in India, National Catholic Register correspondent in Bangalore, Anto Akkara, explains:

More than 5 million girls have gone missing in a decade, as per the 2011 census estimates — compared to the data from the 2001 national census.

Even the news about the increase in the gender ratio, from 933 to 940 females per 1,000 men, got drowned in the alarming decline in the number of girls under 6 years: from 927 to 914 per 1,000 boys. In some states, that ratio went below 800 girls per 1,000 boys.

The numbers cannot be explained as a preference for boys in backward areas resulting from the economic conditions of rural life. Female feticide is actually more prevalent among the better educated and urban population.

The census figures showed that while the child ratio in rural areas is 918 girls per 1,000 boys, the figure is 904 girls per 1,000 boys in cities and urban areas.

“It is sad that people are using their education to get rid of the girl child instead of getting rid of their prejudices,” said Cardinal Gracias. [Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai, is president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.]

Prospective parents often conduct illegal testing of the sex of the child during pregnancy and abort if the embryo is a girl due to deep-rooted gender prejudice in India.

Akkara explains the roots of the preference for boys in this way:

The preference for boys, according to Akkara,

is rooted in the belief that one cannot attain moksha (liberation) unless he has a son to perform his last rites, as mandated by Hindu sacred writings.

This belief traditionally rendered the girl child unwanted and paved the way for the dowry system that has reduced her to a “liability” for the family. Worried about dowry burdens, couples often abort the second pregnancy if the fetus is a girl.

In some northern states, there are fewer than 800 girls per 1,000 boys. The proportions are much more balanced in states like Kerala where Christians are more numerous and Christian education more widespread, but Christians still only account for 2.3% of India’s population. Three-fourths of the nearly 15 million students on the rolls of 20,000 Catholic educational institutions are non-Christians.

*In the picture above, girls get a good night blessing from Loreto Sister Cyril Mooney at the Rainbow Home in Kolkata, India, Feb. 11. Rainbow Home is a care and schooling program started by Sister Mooney for the orphans and street girls.

For Akkara's full report, go to National Catholic Register at

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