A United Nations report on Tuesday showed that 4.6 lakh girls were “missing” at birth each year from 2013 to 2017, as a result of sex selection that prefers a male child to a female child. The report added that 4.6 crore women are “missing” in India over the last 50 years. Sex selection is prohibited by law in India.

In its State of World Population Report, 2020, the United Nations Population Fund said globally, the number of “missing” women is 14.2 crore.

Sex ratio measures the number of females born for every 1,000 males. The report added that gender-biased sex selection tends to be higher among wealthy families, but percolates down to lower-income families over time, as sex selection technologies become more accessible and affordable.

The Sample Registration System report, published by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs in 2018, had said that sex ratio at birth in India for children born between 2016 and 2018 was just 899, and nine states – Haryana, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Bihar – have a sex ratio at birth below 900. As per the 2011 Census, the latest to take place in the country, the sex ratio for all Indians was 940 females to 1,000 males.

The National Family Health Survey 2015-’16 had shown that approximately one in four (26.8%) of Indian women are subjected to child marriage, defined as marriage before the age of 18. In Bihar and West Bengal, approximately two in five women are married off as children, and the ratio is one in three in Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh,

Globally, roughly one in five (21%) of women are subjected to child marriage, the State of World Population Report said on Tuesday.

The report said that the drivers of child marriage are poverty, insecurity and limited access to quality education and work opportunities. These factors mean that child marriage is often seen as the best option for girls, or as a means to reduce the economic burden on the family, it said.

According to the NFHS data from 2015-’16, girls with little or no formal education and coming from the poorest 25% of the population are the most likely to be married off as children. The data had said that one extra year of schooling for girls will increase the average age of marriage by 0.36 years.

The State of World Population Report added that 32% of Indian women who had been married before the age of 18 had experienced physical abuse from their husbands, compared to 17% for those who married as adults. This is based on a survey of more than 8,000 women in five states where child marriage is most prevalent – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkand, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

However, there is a silver lining. According to the report, advances in India have contributed to a 50% decline in child marriages in South Asia. The NFHS data had said that child marriage in India fell from 47% in 2005-’06 to 26.8% in 2015-’16.