Gender Discrimination Leads To The Deaths Of 2.4 Million Indian Girls Each Decade

Girls in Mumbai, India. Yury Birukov/Shutterstock

A chilling new study suggests that approximately 240,000 female children under the age of five died from preventable causes each year between 2000 and 2005 due to gender-related neglect by their guardians.

The findings, published in The Lancet Global Health, indicate that the rate of discrimination-driven childhood mortality in India has not improved over the past 20 years, meaning the nation’s epidemic of “missing women” will continue for several more generations.


"Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn't simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born," stated study author Christophe Guilmoto, alluding to the common practice of aborting female fetuses. (Years of selective pregnancies have led to massive gender imbalances in both India and China).

"Gender equity is not only about rights to education, employment, or political representation," Guilmoto added. "It is also about care, vaccination, and nutrition of girls, and ultimately survival."

In order to shed light on an issue that occurs away from the watchful eyes of record-keeping bureaucrats, the researchers calculated rates of both male and female under-five mortality using data from the 2011 Indian census, mortality rates from 46 other countries, and district-specific indicators of locals’ fertility rates, sex ratios at birth, and socioeconomic status.

They were then able to subtract out excessive female mortality that could not be explained by factors other than discrimination. Overall, the additional deaths added up to 18.5 of every 1,000 girls born during the five-year period – totaling 239,000 per year or 2.39 million per decade.


Dishearteningly, 90 percent of the enormous nation’s 640 districts showed some degree of biased child mortality, though, as expected, the tragic phenomenon was most prevalent in less developed areas.

Rural location, dependence on agriculture, lower levels of economic development and education, and a prevalent local culture of gender inequity were the common threads linking regions with worse excess female mortality. The northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh alone accounted for two-thirds of the total excess deaths. 

"As the regional estimates of excess deaths of girls demonstrate, any intervention to reduce the discrimination against girls in food and healthcare allocation should therefore target in priority regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where poverty, low social development, and patriarchal institutions persist and investments on girls are limited," said co-author Nandita Saikia.

"The sustained fertility decline currently observed in North India is likely to lead to a reduction in postnatal discrimination. Unless son preference diminishes, lower fertility, however, might bring about a rise in gender-biased [selective abortions] as was observed 20 years ago in Western India. This reinforces the need to address directly the issue of gender discrimination in addition to encouraging social and economic development for its benefits on Indian women."


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