Gender Bias

A study by Lancet has found that gender bias in India kills over 200,000 girls each year. (Beti Bachao Andolan Twitter photo)

LONDON — Apart from the rising number of female feticide cases in India, more than 200,000 girls under the age of five die each year in the country, finds a Lancet study led by Indian-origin researcher Nandita Saikia.

The study, published in the journal Lancet Global Health, has found that there is an average of 239,000 excess deaths each year of girls under the age of five, as a result of neglect due to gender discrimination.

The numbers, which are particularly higher in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, are mostly due to unwanted pregnancies and subsequent neglect. 

For too long, the focus has been only on prenatal sex selection, said co-researcher Christophe Guilmoto from the Université Paris Descartes in France.

"Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn't simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born," he said.

The figures, which are around 2.4 million excess deaths of girls in a decade, can only be checked by an emphasis on female literacy and employment in modern industries, the researchers noted.

"Regional estimates of excess deaths of girls shows any intervention in the food and health care allocation should particularly target Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where poverty, low social development, and patriarchal institutions persist and investments on girls are limited," said Saikia, a postdoctoral research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

Excess female child mortality is also found in 90 percent of the districts in the country.

In all, 29 out of 35 states in India had overall excess mortality in girls under five, and all states and territories bar two had at least one district with excess mortality. 

The problem is most pronounced in northern India – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – which account for two-thirds of the total excess deaths. 

In Uttar Pradesh, excess female mortality was calculated at 30.5 percent, while in Bihar the rate is 28.5, in Rajasthan 25.4 and in Madhya Pradesh 22.1. 

In parts of western Rajasthan and northern Bihar, excess mortality as a result of gender bias accounts for 30-50 percent of the mortality rate of females under five.

Saikia noted that if there were no excess female deaths in India, the country could have very easily achieved its Millennium Development Goal target on child mortality of 42 deaths per 1,000 births.

The study "reinforces the need to address directly the issue of gender discrimination in addition to encouraging social and economic development for its benefits on Indian women," she said.

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