India’s Preference for Boys Results in 21 Million ‘Unwanted’ Girls

India’s continued preference to have male over female children has resulted in an environment unfair for many growing Indian daughters, a new study has revealed.    

While there has reportedly been a conscious effort to sway families from selecting a preferred gender in India, sons have remained a popular choice among parents. According to the 2017-18 economic survey released Monday, instead of sex-selective abortion, Indian parents have been continuing to have children until they have their desired number of sons.

Despite the country’s economic progress in recent years, the study warns that India has yet to address several development indicators including employment, use of reversible contraception, and son preference.

The research, headed by chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian, found that the so-called son “meta” preference directly affects female children as it reduces the resources made available to them, Quartz reports.

“Families, where a son is born, are more likely to stop having children than families where a girl is born,” the survey noted. “This is suggestive of parents employing ‘stopping rules’.”

It further posits that the trend may have resulted in as many as 21 million “unwanted girls,” in India. The term “unwanted” referring to the girls whose parents wanted to have sons instead.

The conclusion was reached after identifying the indicator called the sex ratio of the last child (SRLC) and reviewing previous data from the demographic and health survey.

In a society with a preference for sons, the indicator is heavily skewed in favor of male children. The findings revealed that such is the case in India.

Compared to the global average of natural “sex ratio at birth” currently at 1.05 (105 males for every 100 females) based on World Health Organisation figures, the sex ratio in India is heavily skewed in favor of males, with slight changes with each born child.

While the first child in Indian households with more than one child is fairly close to the biologically determined natural sex ratio at 1.07,  the sex ratio of the last child for first-borns is 1.82.

The survey further cited a 2015 study titled “The roots of gender inequality in developing countries” which enumerated Indian parents’ reasons for having a son preference. These include patrilocality ( tradition of having women move to husbands’ houses after marriage), patrilineality (passing on property to sons rather than daughters), dowry (which adds extra costs of having girls), old age support from sons, and rituals performed by sons.

While the survey noted that the shift from sex-selective abortions to increasing the number of children to have more sons at least allowed daughters opportunity to live, it cannot be denied how women in India somehow remains unwanted.

“In some sense, once born, the lives of women are improving but society still appears to want fewer of them to be born,” the survey explained.

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