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Delhi's skewed sex ratio: "24,000 girls go missing every year"

By Rashme Sehgal

Delhi's sex ratio has become more and more skewed over the years. One study of families which already have one or more daughters shows just 219 girls being born for every 1,000 boys

What is happening to the state of Delhi? It may boast a higher standard of living compared to the rest of India , as also a rich and seminar-trotting elite. Yet when it comes to sex ratios, and the practice of sex selective abortions, it is these rich up-market families that are proving far more intolerant of the girl-child than their rural counterparts.

A recent survey of leading hospitals in the capital, including Jaipur Golden, Safdarjung Hospital, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (IIMS) and LNGP, showed that Delhi 's affluent indulge in greater numbers of sex selective abortions than do the less well-off.

A confidential study titled 'Analysis of Trends of Sex Ratio at Birth in Delhi Hospitals' looked at the entire phenomenon of declining sex ratios in the capital between 1993 and 2003. Carried out by the Christian Medical Association (CMA) of India (which has 350 mission hospitals under its ambit), this study also found that Delhi 's private hospitals had much higher figures for sex selective abortions than did government hospitals.

Dr Joe Verghese of the CMA says: "Our study revealed that if the first child is a girl, then 50% of female foeticide takes place when the mother is pregnant the second time around. This goes up to 70% when the woman is expecting her third child. Our study has shown that in such cases, only 219 girls are being born for every 1,000 boys."

Verghese believes that women who are "mere housewives" have no control over their pregnancies. It is only when a mother is working and enjoys a high occupational status that she begins to have some degree of control over herself. However, since most sex selective abortions are done outside hospitals, in private clinics, it is incorrect to blame only the hospitals for this disturbing trend, he says.

Dr Puneet Bedi, a Delhi-based gynaecologist who has been tracking Delhi 's 'missing girls' for the last 10 years, goes a step further. "If we go by census trends, the girl-boy ratio in the capital is now down to 817 girls for every 1,000 boys. This means that 24,000 girls go 'missing' in Delhi every year."

Bedi is unwilling to give medical practitioners a clean chit. He says: "There has been a complete criminalisation of the medical profession. If doctors can go to any lengths to run sex detection clinics, then they will go to any lengths to do other underhand operations as well. The situation can only change if the government comes down heavily on the medical profession."

What parents indulging in this practice fail to understand is that this skewed demography will soon turn against men. Bedi warns that if we continue with this trend, India will reach a stage where 23 million boys will be unable to find partners.

The results on the ground are there for all to see. The girl-boy ratio in the last eight-ten years has slid so strongly in favour of the boy-child that the imbalance is now visible at pre-school nurseries and junior schools. In most nurseries catering to three-five-year-olds, boys far outnumber girls.

Ramni Chopra, principal of Step-by-Step, a nursery in Panscheel Park that caters to the children of the glitterati and political elite, points out: "In the last five years, the number of girl students has steadily declined. Families have a strong male preference even though experience shows us that women are taking on more family responsibilities. In fact, they are outperforming boys in most fields," says Chopra.

Some parts of Delhi are worse-off than others. East Delhi 's Preet Vihar has the worst sex ratio -- it is now down to 750 girls for every 1,000 boys. Next is Punjabi Bagh where the ratio is 820 girls per 1,000 boys. Up-market colonies like Defence Colony and Patel Nagar do not fare much better. Both show figures of 850 females per 1,000 males.

Statisticians monitoring these declining figures at the Office of the Chief Registrar of Births and Deaths (ORBD) in Delhi 's old secretariat complex believe the situation has worsened after the release of Census 2001. As one senior doctor here revealed: "Census 2001 showed that there were 868 females per 1,000 males. The capital already had the dubious distinction of ranking third among states with low sex ratios, after Punjab and Haryana. Trends in the last three years indicate that the girl-boy ratio is widening." All nine districts in Delhi confirm this trend.

The doctor adds: "We have now gone in for complete computerisation. This means that hospitals are directly sending us data online on the number of girls and boys being born there. While the 2003-04 data is being tabulated by a private agency, the 2004-05 data is being put together by the ORBD."

Delhi 's sex ratio began showing a sharp decline with the 1991 census figure of 827. The last two years have been the worst yet for the capital, with figures dropping steadily. A healthy ratio, according to world standards, is considered to be 952 females for every 1,000 males.

InfoChange News & Features, August 2005