The trend in sex ratio for past hundred years has seen a dip in the curve. The sex ratio has steadily declined from 972 in 1901 to 930 in 1971.
Thereafter, it increased marginally to 934 in 1981. It hits an all time low of 927 in 1991 but has improved marginally to 934 by 2001.
In 1901, eleven states and union territories had a sex ratio of over 1000. According to 2001 census only two (Kerala and Pondicherry) have recorded a sex ratio of more than 1000 (Figure 1).
All others have shown a downward slide. The major States that are largely responsible for the decline in the overall sex ratio in India are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Although the sex ratio in Punjab has been consistently low, the situation was improving till 1991, but 2001 was a setback as the sex ratio had declined to 874.
To compound the matter further, the sex ratio in the 0-6 year age group has dipped to 793 as compared to 927 for the whole country. In Haryana and Rajasthan, the sex ratio kept fluctuating in a narrow band and always remained at a low level.
Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are the States where the sex ratio has remained more or less stagnant. In West Bengal the sex ratio declined sharply from 1901 to 1941 and then made a gradual turn around on an upward path to reach 934 in 2001.
India has a very uneven composition of population as compared to most of the developed countries in die world. Several reasons are attributed to explain the consistently low levels of sex ratio and their further decline in the country. Some of the commonly put forward reasons are :
1. Change in sex ratio at Birth.
The imbalance in the number of males and females starts at the beginning. It is now a well established law of nature that the males exceed females at the time of birth.
It is believed that generally 943-952 female births take place for every 1000 male births, which in effect would mean that there is a deficiency of about 50 females per 1000 males in every birth cohort. Many demographers believe that left on its own, this is an unalterable constant.
2. Bias against girl child resulting in higher mortality at younger Ages.
Since times immemorial, the Indian society has practised discrimination against girl child as evident from information contained in folklore, history and literature.
This leads to weaker girls, more open to infections, malnutrition and deficiency diseases thus increasing their mortality rate.
3. High post-natal Mortality.
Due to poor health and early marriage, lots of women die during pregnancy or post-natal, in developing societies like India.
An underdeveloped health care infrastructure compounds the situation further, leading to increased mortality in the reproductive age group.
3. Female Infanticide.
In many social groups of India, female child was looked down upon. It was considered inauspicious to have daughters so they were killed at the time of birth (This practice is still being followed in many parts of the country in a more refined way as discussed in the next reason).
4. Female Foeticide (due to male child preference).
Many societies prefer male children. The couples have only one child if it is a male. With invention of new medical technologies, pre-natal sex determination has become possible. So if the foetus is female, the pregnancy is medically terminated.
This practice is known as female foeticide – the killing of female foetus, even before it is born. This has had a very adverse effect on the sex ratio of the country. States like Punjab are worst affected where the sex ratio has declined to 874 in 2001.
5. Decrease in the sex ratio in the 0-6 age Group.
The sex ratio in the age group 0-6 has decreased at a much faster pace than the overall sex ratio of the country after 1981. The decreasing sex ratio in this child population perhaps has a cascading effect on population over a period of time leading to diminishing sex ratio in the country.
One thing is clear- the imbalance that has set in at this early age-group is difficult to be removed and would remain to haunt the population for a long time to come. To say the least, demographically the sex ratio of 927 of the population in the age group 0-6 does not appear to augur well for the future of the country. Most alarming is the sex ratio of Punjab in the 0 to 6 age group. It has decreased to 793.