gender bias

More male foetus abortions than female? Official data indicates vast under-reporting

As many as 238 foetuses and newborns were abandoned in South Delhi alone.

More male babies were victims of foeticide than female in 2014, the latest year for which data are available, according to national crime data, indicating the extent of under-reporting.

As many as 53 male foeticides were reported in 2014, compared to 50 cases of female foeticides, according to National Crime Records Bureau data. Sex of four foetuses were unknown.

Since a law criminalising sex selection came into force 20 years ago in 1996, 350 people have been convicted, which is nearly 18 every year, according to a Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) reply dated August 5, 2016.

That this is a vast underestimate is obvious from India’s declining child sex ratio (the number of females to 1,000 males under six years of age), which fell from 945 in 1991 to 918 in 2011.

Source: United Nations Population Fund
Source: United Nations Population Fund

“Of the 12 million girls born in India, one million do not see their first birthdays,” said Kamini Lalu, an additional sessions judge in an order in 2014, quoted in the Business Standard. “As a result of this human trafficking has become common in various states of India where teenage girls are being sold for cheap money by poor families, being treated as sex objects with more than half of such cases going unreported.”

As many as 238 foetuses and newborns were abandoned in South Delhi alone, between 1996 and 2012; of these, 115 were males, 110 were females, and sex of 13 foetuses could not be ascertained, according to an All India Institute of Medical Science study, the Indian Express reported on August 17, 2016.

Males were predominant, but on closer examination, “females out-numbered males” among the foetuses five months (20 weeks) of gestational age, Dr C Behera, one of the co-authors of the report, said. “Owing to the societal bias in favour of a male, this could mean that selective female foeticide happened during this period. In India, medical abortion is allowed only up to 20 weeks of gestational age and criminal abortions and selective female foeticide subsequent to antenatal sex determination are more likely before 20 weeks of pregnancy,” Behera said.

Madhya Pradesh reported the most (15) female foeticide cases in 2014, followed by Rajasthan (11), Punjab (7), Uttar Pradesh (4) and Haryana (4), according to an August 5, 2016 reply to the Lok Sabha. Provisional data for 2015 reported 52 female foeticides, with Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra reporting more than other states, 12 each.

As many as 2,296 cases have been filed across India for illegal sex-determination tests as of March 2016, the government told the Parliament.

Of 107 foeticides – NCRB does not provide data on male or female foeticides by state – reported across India in 2015, Madhya Pradesh reported the most (30), followed by Rajasthan (24), Uttar Pradesh (11), Punjab (10) and Maharashtra (7).

Source: National Crime Records Bureau
Source: National Crime Records Bureau

NCRB started collecting data for female foeticide only from 2014, the government told the Parliament.

Sex selection cases are filed under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994.

Rajasthan leads, with 626 on-going court/police cases for sex determination, followed by Maharashtra (554), Punjab (192), Haryana (165) and Uttar Pradesh (139).

These five states account for 73% of all reported sex-determination tests nationwide, an obvious under-estimate, as we said, given the number of foeticides reported by independent studies.

Source: Lok Sabha; Figures as on March 2016.
Source: Lok Sabha; Figures as on March 2016.

In all, 350 convictions were made and 100 medical registrations were cancelled nation-wide over two decades.

Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar are the worst states to be a woman, IndiaSpend reported in July, 2016. These states have the highest sex-selective abortions, and women in these states have the lowest literacy rates, marry earliest, die most frequently while pregnant, bear the most children, have the most crimes committed against them and are least likely to be employed.

The sex ratio at birth in India was 908 for 2010-'12, which improved to 909 during 2011-13. Among India’s 21 larger states, Haryana is the worst, with 864 females per 1,000 males (2011-13), according to data provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to parliament on April 29, 2016.

Punjab (867), Uttar Pradesh (878), Delhi (887), Rajasthan (893) and Maharashtra (902) are other worst-performing states. Chhattisgarh has India’s most favourable sex ratio at birth, with 970 females per 1,000 males, followed by Kerala (966) and Karnataka (958), among the larger states.

Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Haryana have had the worst decline in the past 30 years in child sex ratio, according to the MOHFW annual report 2015-'16.

India’s sex ratio is 943 per 1000 males, as per Census 2011. Haryana is the worst performing among 28 states, with 879 females per 1000 males, followed by Jammu and Kashmir (889), Sikkim (890), Punjab (895), and Uttar Pradesh (898).

The overall Indian sex ratio should be at least 950 women to 1,000 men (nature produces more males than females, as boys are more vulnerable to infant diseases than girls).

Haryana has 17 districts classified as gender-critical, one of which Rohtak – with 867 females for every 1,000 males – gave India its first Olympic medal in 2016, after wrestler Sakshi Malik became the first Indian female wrestler to win a medal at Olympics, IndiaSpend reported earlier this month.

This article first appeared on Indiaspend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.


SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.