NATIONAL

Sex ratio falls to 898 girls per 1,000 boys

Despite the 2011 census setting alarm bells ringing about India’s worsening sex ratio, the gap between male and female registered births in India fell further in 2012 and 2013, new official data suggest.

India’s Civil Registration System (CRS), administered by the office of the Registrar General of India, which also conducts the decadal census, comprises all officially registered birth and death data. It is mandatory to register all births and deaths within 21 days of their occurrence.

Official registration of these events has been improving across the country, and in 2013, the RGI estimated that 85.5 per cent of all births are now registered, with 17 States estimated to be registering all births, but Bihar and Uttar Pradesh struggling with only 57.4 per cent and 68.6 per cent registrations. “As the level of registration improves, we would anticipate that the sex ratio also should improve, because people are normally less likely to register female births,” a senior census official said.

However, since 2011, when the census found India’s child sex ratio at birth to have fallen to 910 girls for every 1,000 boys, the situation may have worsened. Newly released CRS data show that the sex ratio of registered births fell from 909 in 2011 to 908 the next year and 898 in 2013. Manipur and Haryana do particularly badly, as do Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan.

There are, demographers caution, problems with using CRS data on the sex ratio. For one, it counts registered births only and since girls are less likely to be officially registered than boys, the sex ratio derived from the CRS is artificially depressed. Secondly, the RGI’s Sample Registration System (SRS), which selects a nationally representative sample to derive data on births and deaths, is considered to be more rigorous than the CRS which relies on local authorities. A comparison of the data does indicate a small difference between CRS and SRS for the same years, and large differences at the State level between CRS and census data. CRS data are also at times prone to wide year-on-year variation at the State level.

However, the new CRS data too should alert governments to the fact that India’s law against prenatal sex determination-driven terminations is not working, activists say. “There is a lot of resistance among doctors and in many places, the Act is simply not being implemented,” says Dr. Sabu George, India’s leading campaigner against sex-selective abortions.

“Moreover, what’s happening now is that gender determination for even the first pregnancy has started to happen,” Dr. George says. Others agree; as families get smaller, the pressure for one of the family’s two children to be a boy escalates.