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India's preference for boys has produced 21 million "unwanted girls"

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So much for beti bachao

Many parents eager for boys continue to have children until the desired number of sons are born, according to a report released Monday as part of the. Another reason for the same is the "burden" that comes with the birth of a girl child in the form of dowry that has to be given at the time of her marriage.

Historically Indian parents have desired sons - who are regarded as breadwinners and family heirs.

The preference for boys and the availability of sex-selective operations, although technically illegal, has resulted in a gender gap of as many as 63 million girls, classified as "missing" by the comprehensive Economic Survey 2017-18. "This is suggestive of parents employing "stopping rules"," says the survey, which was led by chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian. It estimated that more than 21 million girls were not wanted by their families. To arrive at this conclusion, the survey looked at an indicator called the sex ratio of the last child (SRLC), using decades of data from the demographic and health survey.

For all the social campaigns and awareness drives to end sex selection in India, the preference for sons is still going strong. This means that at birth, on average, there are 105 males for every 100 females.

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The sex ratio among families with one child stood at 1.82 i.e., 1820 males per 1000 females. In 1970, India nearly met this ratio of relationship between sexes (1,060) but data in 2014 has increased considerably to 1108 men, although selection of sex was outlawed in 1994. The wealthy Punjab and Haryana states were most affected with a ratio of 1,200 boys per 1,000 girls in children younger than 7.

The survey takes into account that gender equality is an inherently multi-dimensional issue. While 62.3 percent of women in India were involved in decisions about their own health in 2005-06, the number increased to 74.5 percent in 2015-16.

The survey, however, holds out a sliver of hope. "Within India, there is significant heterogeneity, with the North-Eastern states (a model for the rest of the country) consistently out-performing others and not because they are richer; hinterland states are lagging behind but the surprise is that some southern states do less well than their development levels would suggest", it is stated. "Even having a legal and policy system that has done everything to ensure legal rights for women and for girls, has not been enough". The percentage of women who did not experience physical or emotional violence also increased from 63 percent to 71 percent, whereas the median age at first childbirth also increased by 1.3 years over ten years.

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