An invisible epidemic claims the lives of around 2.4 million girls under five years of age in a decade in India. That's around 239,000 girls each year.
A new study published in the Lancet Global Health shows how neglect due to gender discrimination is not just depriving Indian girls and women of their basic rights but also of their right to live.
Researchers with the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis analyzed how Indian girls face fatal bias, both within and outside of their families.
While there are numerous studies that show how parental preference of boys over girls in India leads girls to receive poorer nutrition, less education and medical assistance, this is the first time the number of excess fatalities under five have been studied at a district level.
“The highest rates of excess female mortality in childhood were in northern India,” the researchers wrote, mentioning Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Bihar. “By contrast, almost no excess female mortality was reported in most of southern India and in several inland regions with a strong tribal population.”
Despite India emerging as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, an innate socio-cultural prejudice against women has led to rampant female feticide and infanticide, which has massively skewed the country's sex ratio.
"The reduction in sex ratio of youth is found to be much more than that of the overall population," according to the World Bank numbers reported by HuffPost in November 2017. "It has come down to 939 in 2011 as compared to 961 in 1971 and is projected to decline further to 904 in 2021 and 898 in 2031."
However, a co-author of the latest study, Christophe Guilmoto from the Université Paris-Descartes, believes it's high time the focus went beyond pre-natal discrimination.
“Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn’t simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born,” said Guilmoto. “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.”
He also pointed out avoidable deaths of girls mostly occur during childhood due to lack of medical "care, vaccination, and nutrition."
In 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to address the problem by promoting an initiative to address the country's skewed sex ratio. The leader urged people to post their pictures with their daughters on social media.
However, the Lancet findings suggest the problem persists to troubling levels.
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