An estimated 239,000 infant girls younger than five die in India every year because many parents prefer boys over girls, according to a study published on Tuesday.
Scientists found India has a massive deficit in the number of women. More than 63 million women are “statistcally missing” across the country, according to the government’s annual economic survey.
One of the common reasons cited for high female morality in India is sex-selective abortion, but the study found there is a “postnatal discrimination against girls in India,” which means the problem lies beyond prenatal care and carries on after a girl is born.
“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 study co-author Christophe Guilmoto of the Paris Descartes University.
Most of these avoidable deaths of women in India happen during childhood.
“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,” Guilmoto said.
The study found rural areas with high density were plagued with the most suffering for girls. The country’s largest states in northern India – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh – accounted for two-thirds of India’s total female deaths.
The authors highlighted “the need for more proactive engagement with the issue of postnatal sex discrimination and a focus on the northern districts”.
The researchers gathered data from 46 countries with no sign of gender bias for mortality to estimate the impact of excess female mortality at district level. The study found around 19 deaths of every 1,000 girls between 2000 and 2005 was due to gender bias in India.
“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… where poverty, low social development, and patriarchal institutions persist and investments (in) girls are limited,” said co-author Nandita Saikia of IIASA – International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, based in Laxenburg, Austria.