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Gender bias kills more than 600 girls aged below 5 in India every day, finds study in Lancet

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Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan & Madhya Pradesh accounted for close to 70 per cent of the total avoidable deaths, study published in Lancet has found.

New Delhi: Around 2.39 lakh girls aged below five die in India every year of neglect stemming from gender bias, a study published in The Lancet has found. That is more than 600 every day.

The research, compiled by the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), sought to assess the number of avoidable deaths among girls under five across 640 districts.

Avoidable deaths refer to the difference between the expected and actual mortality. The research also drew from UN population data on 46 countries to calculate India’s position vis-à-vis nations where gender discrimination is not as stark.

“Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn’t simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born,” the study said.

India’s deep-rooted preference for sons has given the country a severely skewed sex ratio, which doesn’t seem to be getting better despite several efforts. According to a reply given by the government in Parliament in April this year, the sex ratio, or the number of girls born per 1,000 boys, fell to 898 in 2014-16 from 906 in 2012-14.

While most efforts in India have sought to correct the sex ratio by clamping down on prenatal sex discrimination, the IIASA study focused not on female infanticide/foeticide, but the discrimination suffered by the girl child after birth.

“Gender equity is not only about rights to education, employment or political representation. It is also about care, vaccination, and nutrition of girls, and ultimately survival,” the researchers noted in the study.

The study found that 29 of India’s states and union territories recorded avoidable deaths among girls under five.  The problem, predictably, was found to be the worst in north India, with Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh accounting for close to 70 per cent of the total avoidable deaths.

The research follows an alarming finding recorded in the Economic Survey earlier this year, that there are 21 million “unwanted” girls — girls whose parents wanted a son, not a daughter — in India. The statistic was arrived at by studying the sex ratio of the last child (SRLC), which continues to be heavily skewed in favour of the male child.

While the government has sought to bring in a change in attitudes towards the girl child through schemes such as ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, critics say the attempts only touch the surface of the problem.

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