New Delhi: Last week, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development revealed an impressive eight-point jump in the all-India sex ratio at birth.
In a reply to Parliament, the ministry stated the sex ratio at birth rose to 931 females per 1,000 males in 2018-19 from 923 in 2015-16, providing a boost to the Narendra Modi government’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme.
But many experts say the celebrations may be premature, and that more authentic data will emerge from the 2021 census.
In the past, the government used to depend on census data to compute the Child Sex Ratio, but after the launch of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, it felt it should not wait for 10 years to study the progress of the scheme, a senior government official told ThePrint.
“We felt that 10 years is too long a time to take any corrective steps, and so we take yearly data from states now,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.
“The data is absolutely thorough and objective because it comes from the state health departments…They collate data on births in both private and government hospitals, as well as at home.”
Academics and activists who have worked to improve the sex ratio are taking this data with a pinch of salt.
“I would be more comfortable with the data that comes out of the census numbers in 2021. Ultimately, that is the data which covers each household in every district, every state,” said Paro Mishra, assistant professor of sociology and social anthropology at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi.
“Most states are recording a massive jump in sex ratio at birth…It is improbable at many levels.”
According to the government’s reply, states like Haryana and Rajasthan saw a jump of 27 and 18 points respectively. Haryana’s ratio rose to 914 in 2018-19 from 887 in 2015-16, while Rajasthan’s jumped to 947 in 2018-19 from 929 in 2015-16.
“Such a steep rise is unlikely,” Mishra said.
Others too questioned the authenticity of the data.
“Most academics are not taking this data seriously…The National Family Health Survey data and the census data is a lot more reliable,” said a sociology professor who did not want to be named.
Moreover, given that some of the most populous states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are undergoing a fertility decline, the child sex ratio is bound to dip in these states, argued Ravinder Kaur, professor of sociology at IIT Delhi.
“I don’t think there would be a whole lot of improvement when the 2021 census data ultimately comes out — primarily because of UP and Bihar,” she said. “So this may be premature celebration.”
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.