Thoughts on the Indian Economy

Thinking about assorted economic issues in India.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Female Foeticide in Punjab

I just read an article (in Outlook about the grave state of sex ratios in Punjab. Punjab has one of the worst child sex ratios in the country (along with states like Himachal, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Bihar and Gujarat). In 2003, it was 776 girls to 1000 boys (declined from 793:1000 in 2001). These kinds of alarmingly low sex ratios indicate a high prevalence of female foeticide.A very striking thing about this very serious problem is that it is happening in Punjab, home of the Green Revolution, a very prosperous part of the country. Scientist and observers have noted that usually, as incomes and wealth rise, differential treatment of genders drops too. We think economic phenomenon and social phenomenon do move together to a certain extent. However, the notion of economic spillovers into expected social behaviors does not seem to hold here. Here are three specific cases how becoming better off financially has led to a worse situation for the female child:

1. The two-child norm seems to be increasing amongst the rural landed people in Punjab. This may be expected since fertility usually declines with increasing wealth. However, the decline in fertility has excacerbated the female foeoticide situation since now parents are all the more desperate to have a son amongst the two children. The mentality is, "If I'm going to only have two kids, one or both better be a male."

2. The richer the family, the expected dowry from that family is higher. So wealthier families would like to avoid havings daughters who will make them pay a higher dowry at marriage time.

3. With greater prosperity comes better medical technologies. But certain medical technologies like ultrasound and quicker, cleaner abortion techniques have made it all the easier to identify and kill the female foetus.

It is really unfortunate that the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Act, which prohibits sex selection, is so poorly enforced and female foeticide exists, especially in a state like Punjab. By producing more males at the expense of females, people think they optimizing financially (that is, avoid paying dowry) and creating old-age insurance (since sons are expected to take care of parents in old age). However, female foeticide, apart from being morally repugnant, will create sex imbalances that may be stumbling blocks for further economic development.

A Proper Introduction

I plan to use this space to write about and express opinions on various economic facets of India and/or relating to India. I hope you get a chance to read, mull over and comment on these thoughts.