Census shows male-female birth ratio inching towards balance

The Provisional Population Data for Tamil Nadu of the Census of India 2011, accessed by The Hindu, shows the female population of Madurai district has recorded an increase since the last census in 2001.

The data puts the number of females in the district at 990 per population of 1000. The figure in the last census stood at 978 per 1000 population.

But the heartening news for Maduraites is reflected in the latest child sex ratio. Currently at 939 females per 1000 population, the figure represents a climb in more ways than one.

Decade of recovery

From 2001, when the child sex ratio stood at 926, it has been a decade of recovery for Madurai district which had acquired a stigma for topping in female infanticide cases.

If the present child sex ratio is any indication, Maduraites appear to be gradually shaking off that grim legacy from yesteryear.

But the results are mixed, according to Valli Annamalai, honorary joint secretary, Indian Council of Child Welfare (ICCW).

“The trend (as reflected in the census) has improved in favour of the girl child. But the next challenge is her survival, safety, protection and development. Child abuse prevention and child rights are our focus areas and we will intensify the campaign,” says Ms. Annamalai, who heads the ICCW’s Mother and Child Welfare Project in Usilampatti.

Usilampatti had gained notoriety in the early 1990s for its high infanticide rates.

Says Ms. Annamalai: “In 1990-91, our register says that 201 girl babies were victims of infanticide in 309 villages in Usilampatti taluk. Over the last two decades, ICCW has done extensive work to save the girl child and it has yielded good results.”

According to her, if the first child happens to be a girl, she is in the no-risk category.

If the second child also happens to be a girl, it is at high risk and the situation calls for intervention to keep the child from becoming a victim of infanticide.

Her long years of field work have yielded disturbing insights.

“Mothers were not willing to do away with the newborn female child, but were under tremendous pressure from family members to do so. It was a sad trend,” Ms. Annamalai recalls.

That retrograde trend in Madurai society appears to have reversed, as the latest census figures indicate.

Ms. Annamalai believes that the beneficial impact of education and the government’s Cradle Baby Scheme for abandoned infants are prime factors behind the improved male-female sex ratio.

She notes with satisfaction that the “Usilampatti model” has been taken up in other States such as Rajasthan and Punjab, where girl babies are at risk.

S. Senthil Kumar, deputy director, health services, has a different take on the positive trend in the child sex ratio.

“Nearly 75 per cent of women deliver their babies at the primary health centres. There is no scope for revealing the sex of the foetus. The risk lies at the private diagnostic centres.”

Madurai appears to be moving away from a deep-rooted tradition based on gender prejudice. It is now allowing the girl child to live.