The northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh recently announced that it would enact the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021, which is purportedly aimed at addressing the issue of overpopulation. However, such a law, if enacted, would undoubtedly have a fatal impact on baby girls in the state.
The draft Bill proposes to bar people with over two children from contesting local body elections, applying for, and getting promotion in government jobs and availing government subsidies, including government food rations at subsidized rates. Similar laws and policies also exist in eight other Indian states namely Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand.
However, far from making development accessible to all citizens of India, such coercive laws and polices can result increased sex-selective abortion and female infanticide, given the deep-rooted and overwhelming preference for male children.
A 2020 study by Nirmala Buch, a former senior IAS officer, found that the adoption of a two-child policy by states for panchayat elections resulted in a rise in sex-selective abortions; men divorced their wives to run for local body elections and families even gave up children for adoption to avoid disqualification in the election.
Situation in Uttar Pradesh
The state of Uttar Pradesh already has very poor child sex ratios.
As per the 2011 Census, Uttar Pradesh’s sex ratio for the overall population is 902 girls for every 1000 boys. As the per the Sample Registration System Statistical Report 2017 (SRS) released by the Census office in 2019, the child sex ratio had dropped to a dismal 878 girls for every 1000 boys in the state.
A 2020 study by academicians from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia predicted that highest deficits in female births will occur in Uttar Pradesh, with a cumulative number of missing female births of 2 million from 2017 to 2030.
The introduction of coercive measures will only increase this number exponentially.
By penalizing the birth of additional children, such population control policies will result in families taking extreme measures to ensure the birth of a son, including choosing sex-selective abortions.
This is apparent in even the suggestions received by the UP law commission, that permission be granted to have more than two children if the two children are daughters. These suggestions from the public clearly reveals the bias that exists against female children.
A 2021 article in the Lancet, noted that “...sex-selective abortion appeared to be more pronounced for third-order births than for second-order births after an earlier daughter or daughters. Sex-selective abortion continued to be more common in richer and more educated families than in poorer and less educated families, in contrast to differences in childhood survival and health-care access. The main determinant of missing female births in second-order and third-order births was an earlier daughter or daughters.”
The Way Forward
Researchers have repeatedly highlighted the need to strengthen policies that advocate for gender equity to counter the rise in sex selective abortions. To overall social development and a better standard of living, especially for the women, the governments should instead focus of education, ensuring no child marriages, access to contraceptives, and opportunities for employment for men and women.
However, for real change in the culture each of us need to ensure that we pledge to save our #VanishingGirls by giving them LIFE – Love, Inheritance, Freedom and Equality.