India: 63 million women are ‘statistically missing’ study shows

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A girl walks amidst a dust storm on the banks of the Ganges river in Allahabad, India, February 24. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash

A government survey in India showed that nearly 63 million women in the country are “statistically missing,” in the country, with more than two million women disappearing every year from the male-dominated society.

The skewed ratio of men to women is attributed to the phenomenon of “son preference” that continues to be prevalent among Indian families. As a result, there are 21 million girls who are unwanted by their families.

“Indian parents often continue to have children till they have the desired number of sons,” said the study. The report also reveals that families are more likely to stop having children when a son is born, compared to when a daughter is born.

Usually, the birth of a son is considered a cause celebration and family pride in Indian society. However, the same cannot be said when a daughter is born, as it can be a source of embarrassment to the family. There are also instances that parents grieve having a daughter as they worry about the payment that they need to make for marriage dowries.

The disappearance of the women is a result of sex-selective abortions, and malnutrition, disease, and neglect. According to studies, Indian girls receive less education and get poorer nutrition and medical attention than boys.

Even wealthy and well-educated women receive intense pressure from society to conceive sons instead of daughters.

According to Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, a former India representative at the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, the preference for sons is present across India’s economic landscape.

“Economic development and a higher level of education are not enough to promote or ensure gender equality,” Tavares said. “Even having a legal and policy system that has done everything to ensure legal rights for women and for girls, has not been enough.”

“The challenge of gender is long-standing, probably going back millennia,” said chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, who authored the report.