The girl child’s future

The seven billionth baby is born in Uttar Pradesh, India — and it is a girl. Now UP has not been known for producing girls much; it has one of the worst sex ratios at birth (girls per 1000 boys) in India, which means one of the worst in the world. China gives India a lot of competition in biased sex selection — India, for once, appears better. However, not much should be read into the girl being selected by an NGO as the seventh etc baby — it may have been all so politically correct.

That interpretation is supported by the information contained in the UN's latest Human Development Report. It has India's gender inequality index at 0.617 significantly higher (thus, worse) than neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh (levels of 0.573 and 0.550, respectively). Worse than our neighbours, and worse than most of the rest of the world. Not a great tribute to India's attempt at inclusive growth.

Gender inequality is closely correlated to the problem of the adverse sex ratio in India. More explicitly, girls are not wanted, so they are aborted. Our neighbours do not stoop to such low practices and that maybe one reason they come out ahead. In a recent paper, one of us (Ravinder Kaur) has tried to document the reasons for sex-selection in India; mostly, the culprits are the members of the emerging middle class. This class has run rampant, with easy availability of technology being a perfect "asset" for sex-selection. But given India's growth rate, the emerging middle class (from Rs 90,000 to Rs 1,70,000 per year per family of five at today's prices) is now forming a declining proportion of the total population. In 2000, the size of this emerging middle class is estimated to have been 68 per cent of the population; in 2011, the size of this class is closer to 41 per cent.

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