A report in the Indian Express of Oct 19th Where has the girl child gone? starts off with
The booklet cover says it all: Missing. Released by the United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA, it maps the declining child sex ratio (in the age group 0 to 6) in the country: 20 pages talk of the last decade’s grim reality of the ‘missing girl’ child.
The national average dropped to 927 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 from 945 per 1000 in 1991. And Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh had a child sex ratio of less than 800 girls for every 1000 boys.
According to UNFPA, reasons for the decline have been attributed to the determination of the sex of the unborn child or foetus and eliminating the foetus when found to be female.
The breast beating about the skewed sex ratio in India has always puzzled me. What is all this bitching and moaning about, really? Why don’t these people analyse the situation in its entirety?
Consider the facts:
A. India is overpopulated.
B. Girls are valued less than boys.
C. Neglect of an unwanted child is a greater evil than the aborting of a foetus.
D. The lower supply of women of marriagable age will increase their ‘price’ leading to a ‘negative dowry’.
E. The lower supply of women would retard population growth.
A little reflection on the facts leads one to conclude that the skewed sex ratio is a consequence of other underlying facts such as resource constraints, exhorbitant cost of dowry for getting daughters married, female illiteracy, and so on. Poor families have severe resource constraints, ranging from calories to clothing to education. If sons have a greater net present value (due to their future earning capacity), girls are disadvantaged in the share that they get of the limited resources.
It all boils down to the fact that this is a second-best world. There are multiple problems which conspire to create the skewed sex ratio. Merely addressing the effect leads to idiotic policy recommendations such as banning the determination of the sex of a foetus. One unforunate consequence of that ban could well be the increase in the number of new-born female infants killed, or worse still, chronic neglect of the unwanted girl child.
So what should be the policy response? Either remove all the distortions that lead to the effect or do nothing. For instance, enforce a ban on dowry, enforce a strict limit on the number of pregnancies a woman can have, provide information and materials for effective contraception, increase the marriage age so as to delay the first pregnancy, enforce compulsory and free education for all children, and so on.
All the above may be more than there are resources for. So as a first step, the policy should be to let people make their own decision whether to have a girl child or not by aborting female foetuses. Collectively, it is a rational decision made under the existing constraints.
Of course, if a particular group goes overboard and has no female children, they should be awarded the Darwin Prize for having selected themselves out of the gene pool.