Gender bias kills over 200,000 girls in India each year

Nandita Saikia
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London– Apart from the rising number of female foeticide cases in India, more than 200,000 girls under the age of five die each year in the country, finds a Lancet study led by an Indian-origin researcher.

The study, published in the journal Lancet Global Health, has found that there is on an average 239,000 excess deaths each year of girls under the age of five owing to neglect due to gender discrimination.

The numbers which are particularly higher in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, are mostly due to unwanted child bearing and subsequent neglect.

For too long, the focus has been only on prenatal sex selection, said co-researcher Christophe Guilmoto from the Universite Paris Descartes in France.

“Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn’t simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born,” he said.

Nandita Saikia

The figures which are around 2.4 million in a decade can only be checked with stress on female literacy and employment in modern industries, the researchers noted.

“Regional estimates of excess deaths of girls shows any intervention in the food and health care allocation should particularly target Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where poverty, low social development, and patriarchal institutions persist and investments on girls are limited,” said Nandita Saikia postdoctoral research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria.

Excess female child mortality is also found in 90 per cent of the districts in the country.

In all, 29 out of 35 states in India had overall excess mortality in girls under five, and all states and territories bar two had at least one district with excess mortality.

The problem is most pronounced in northern India, — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — which account for two-thirds of the total excess deaths.

In Uttar Pradesh excess female mortality was calculated at 30.5 per cent, while in Bihar the rate is 28.5, in Rajasthan 25.4, and in Madhya Pradesh 22.1.

In parts of western Rajasthan and northern Bihar, excess mortality as a result of gender bias accounts for 30-50 per cent of the mortality rate of females under five.

Saikia noted that if there were no excess female deaths in India, the country could have achieved its Millennium Development Goal target on child mortality, of 42 deaths per 1,000 births, very easily.

The study “reinforces the need to address directly the issue of gender discrimination in addition to encouraging social and economic development for its benefits on Indian women,” she said.


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