By Sunil Garodia
Indians are giving birth to lesser children but the sex ratio is getting skewed too. This is the finding of the Sample Registration System (SRS) published by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India for the year 2017. It covers the period 2015-2017. Delhi, with 1.5 children on average per couple, has the lowest birth rate in the country while Bihar, with 3.2 children per couple, the highest.
The findings show that 13 states and Union territories have fallen below the replacement fertility rate (which is calculated at 2.1 children per woman needed to keep the population at the same number in the next generation) and which means that the population in these states is shrinking. Notably, all the five southern states, viz. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala - have fertility rates varying from 1.6 to 1.7. It needs reminding that politicians in these states had been up in arms against the policy of allotting Lok Sabha seats as per population as they said it penalized their states for having implemented family planning in a much better way than other states. Apart from these states, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Punjab, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttarakhand also have fertility rates below the replacement rate. Of the rest, Gujarat and Haryana show 2.2 while Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and MP have between 2.3 and 2.7 while UP has 3 and Bihar 3.2. Lack of education and dominance of the caste system in UP and Bihar have meant that these states continue to have a high birth rate which results in each child getting lesser opportunities since the means of the families are limited. This creates a vicious cycle that keeps these children uneducated, malnourished and deprived.
The most disconcerting finding in the SRS is that the sex-ratio has gone down to just 896 females per 1000 males at birth. This is an all-time low figure and the first time that it has fallen below 900. It is a matter of great concern. This means that the unborn girl-child is still being aborted. This also means that despite stringent punishment for determination of the sex of the fetus and prominent signage at all diagnostic centres, people are finding ways of determining it and killing the girl-child in the womb. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Maharashtra and Gujarat are the biggest culprits in this regard and the sex ration has skewed the highest in these states in the years under review. The main reason for this is that as better education, economic issues, easy availability of a wide variety of contraceptives and peer pressure induces couples to have just one or two children, the preference for boys (either due to their own wish or through family pressure) makes them get rid of the fetus if it is a girl. Many couples still wish to have a perfect family by having just two children and they ideally want a girl and a boy. If they decide to have just one child, they still go for a boy. Things are changing but not as fast as we would like them to and this is evident from the figures.
Pic courtesy: Pragativadi, Odisha (www.pragativadi.com)