45.8 Million Missing Females in the World’s 142.6 Million from India: UN

When we talk about female foeticide, child marriages or Female Genital Mutilation, we are taken back to our ancient traditions and beliefs and so we push away certain practices to be perpetrated by only the uneducated rural population. However, a recent UN report titled “State of World Population Report, 2020” is a tight slap on our society’s total lack of awareness and hypocrisy.

Pre Natal and Post Natal Female Deaths

As per the report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a whopping 142.6 million females have gone missing across the world in the last 50 years. In numbers, it translates to a 57 per cent increase compared to the numbers in 1970. The reason could be medical advancement, per capita economic growth, better access to resources and improved population studies. In India alone, a dreadful 45.8 million have experienced both prenatal and postnatal deaths.

“Missing females” are those whose numbers are reflected in sex ratio imbalances at birth as a result of gender-biased (prenatal) sex selection, combined with excess female mortality stemming from postnatal sex selection.

-UN Report

Proponents of gender equality have since long tried to bring to the forefront these archaic practices and have warned about their consequences. However, a preference for male progeny encouraged by the pride associated with the birth of a male in the family coupled with girl child seen as a burden has led to many rubbishing gender equality claims. And the men are not the only ones keeping these obsolete beliefs relevant. The female elders in the family are equally guilty of committing the crime of female murders either in the womb or post-birth.

India and China together account for 82.81 per cent of the total number of missing females in the last 50 years. This is a shame considering that both countries are among the biggest Asian economies with a commendable growth trajectory. It was also observed that in the last 5 year period (2015-2020), excess female deaths i.e. those as a result of postnatal sex selection accounted for 0.36 million (3.6 lakhs) whereas missing female births, a consequence of prenatal sex selection, stood at 0.59 million (5.9 lakhs) for India.

If we consider only 2012, the excess female mortality rate of India was 13.5 per 1000 female births meaning out of every 9 postnatal deaths due to sex selection, 1 was from India. These numbers are just horrendous for a 21st century society. And do not be in the dark assuming this to be the work of middle-class illiterates or the poorest. Female foeticide is a costly affair and it is only in recent years that it has become accessible and affordable to the poor. Which means the rich households have been leading this practice for decades. With an abundance of options to choose from right from popping an abortion pill to inducing miscarriages, females in the country have to come out bloody in this war for survival, literally. Not to forget the plight of women who are against killing their offsprings.

In a country with a celebrated mythological history about Mother Goddesses and an entire festival commemorating Goddess Durga, a religious society like ours is killing the girl child even before she even comes out of the womb is a tragedy of the gravest nature.

Child Marriage

It doesn’t end here. A large number of females, who successfully come out of the womb and grow up to become beautiful little women, are married off at a young age. Zero child marriages by the year 2030 is a goal set by the UNFPA. It is also a priority in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its accompanying Sustainable Development Goals. But achieving it with almost 33000 marriages taking place every day globally is going to be challenging.

Child marriage is more than just a social evil. No doubt it is a complete violation of a woman’s right to life, liberty, choices, body, opportunities and self-development, it is also an enormous economic price that the country pays by putting a full stop on their human resource potential. Women married off young find themselves both economically and socially dependent on their in-laws and therefore any personal growth becomes impossible. Early pregnancy, labour work (rural areas), low nutrition (anaemia), abusive husbands/in-laws, low education, no self-reliance, deteriorating psychology and no right whatsoever on their lives, their bodies, their choices, are just some of the detrimental effects of rampant child marriages.

As per a World Bank study of 12 countries with a high prevalence of child marriages, the loss of human capital would amount to $63 billion between 2017 and 2030.

India alone had 4.1 million child brides married off in 2017. The drivers are mostly economic as parents consider early marriage as a good option to lay off their economic and social responsibilities. On the other hand, it also calms down their insecurities regarding premarital sex, rape or other such events threatening their reputation.

As per National Family Health Survey 2015-’16, Bihar and West Bengal witnessed approximately two in five women falling prey to child marriage, whereas the ratio is one in three in Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Although the 2011 Census measures total sex ratio for all Indians as 940 females against 1,000 males, it is below 900 in nine states – Haryana, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Bihar – as per the Sample Registration System Report, published by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs in 2018.

One positive observation that helps to reduce the occurrence of child marriages is increasing the girl’s educational levels; from primary to secondary or higher. This has time and again proved to prevent this heinous social inequality against the female gender. Besides, governmental pilot projects as well as civic society’s umpteen awareness programmes, have also led to a steady decline in child marriages from 47% in 2005-’06 to 26.8% in 2015-’16. Yet we are far from winning this battle.

Female Genital Mutilation

Another ugly picture of Gender Discrimination manifests itself in the form of Female Genital Mutilation, a savage practice that causes irreversible damage on both the minds and bodies of the young females subjected to it. Recent trends observed concerning medicalisation of the entire procedure and doctors, nurses accepting the practice is worrisome at all levels.

“Female genital mutilation is defined as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other nontherapeutic reasons”

Joint Definition by UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, 1997

FGM is a ghastly and extremely painful practise that robs girls of their humanitarian and sexual rights. The main purpose of FGM is to control a girl’s sexual desires and prowess to protect her “sexual morality“. It makes their sexual existence only as a channel for their reproductive roles. Thus it diminishes the value of a girl’s life and compares it to a commodity that has to be kept safe and pure.

From short term consequences of immense pain, infection, haemorrhage and death to long term effects like loss os sexual pleasure, urinary issues, infertility, obstetric and neonatal outcomes, FGM scars a woman’s entire life. This is against all the laws ever constituted by any organisation. Although FGM is more prevalent in African countries like Somalia and Djibouti, it is still a prevalent practice that crosses all levels of inhuman conduct. In Egypt alone, an unbelievable 92 per cent of ever-married women, aged 15 to 49, have undergone FGM, as per the country’s Demographic and Health Survey, 2014.

Though we joke about certain aspects of Gender Equality and its consequences, for some even today it is a matter of life and death. Success in bringing about gender equality as per the SDG Goals still looks like a distant dream. But change happens from within and at our homes. As long as we are aware of the issues and spread this awareness in our societies, families, friends using the power of social media and real in-person discussions, we can be able to save a lot many lives currently at stake. For all we know, it might be happening right under your nose and you are oblivious to its occurrence.

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