India estimates it has 21 million ‘unwanted’ girls

More than 21 million girls in India are “unwanted” due to a parental bias toward having sons instead of daughters, according to a government report.

India estimated it has more than 21 million "unwanted" girls due to a "meta-preference" toward having sons instead of daughters. Photo by Divyakant Solanki/EPA
India estimated it has more than 21 million “unwanted” girls due to a “meta-preference” toward having sons instead of daughters. Photo by Divyakant Solanki/EPA

An estimate released as part of India’s annual economic survey found that a “meta” son preference encouraged Indian parents to continue having children until giving birth to a boy.

This preference resulted in the birth of 21 million unwanted “girls” who often receive less food and education than their brothers.

Authors of the study also calculated 63 million women are “missing” from India’s population due to selective abortion of female fetuses, disease, neglect and inadequate nutrition.

“We know that the sex ratio in India is highly skewed,” India’s chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian said.

Several economic factors such as passing property on to sons, having to pay a dowry for a daughter’s wedding and women moving to their husband’s house after getting married contribute to the meta-preference, according to the study.

The sex ratio for different states in India worsened even as incomes improved. 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.

“Perhaps the area where Indian society — and this goes beyond governments to civil society, communities, and households — needs to reflect on the most is what might be called ‘son preference’ where development is not proving to be an antidote,” the survey states.

The study also found that increased wealth in the country has caused overall improvements in education and agency.

Economic gains also caused women’s employment percentages to fall from 36 percent in 2005-06 to 24 percent in 2015-16 as men’s income increased, allowing women to pursue non-work activities such as child rearing.

By Daniel Uria