Millions of Girls "Unwanted" By Their Families As India Prefers Sons Over Daughters

The preference among Indian parents to have sons rather than daughters has led to the birth of millions of unwanted girls in the country, a government report has found.

The Economic Survey 2017-2018 analyzed birth rates and gender data for newborn babies.

Preference for male children means that families continue to procreate until they achieve the "desired amount of sons," the survey said, adding that this has also resulted in increasing numbers of female infanticide, sex-selection abortions—illegal in the country— better nutrition and medical care for boys. As a result, more than 21 million women and girls are unwanted in the country.

The report claimed the attitude that favors boys over girls has also resulted in 63 million women being "statistically missing" in the country.

The birth of a son is cause of celebration in Indian families. On the other side, the birth of a girl is source of concern due to the debts families will incur as they will have to pay for the girl's dowry. The survey noted that the phenomenon was also present in non-rural areas.

"This is a serious issue in India, leading to a disturbing gap in the gender ratio. Many families still believe that sons inherit the role of providing for the family, while daughters are married into other families and are thus a burden because of demands for dowry," Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Newsweek.

"Boys are often more privileged than their sisters from the time of their birth, with parents investing more in caring for their health and education. Girls are more likely to drop out of school, be married early. There are serious concerns around maternal mortality and domestic violence," she continued.

"India has run numerous laws and public awareness campaigns to address this problem, including a recent effort led by Prime Minister Modi to celebrate daughters," Ganguly said.

"Unlike in many other countries, medical authorities are forbidden from identifying the gender of the fetus to prevent selective abortions. Yet, the problem has persisted because of gaps in enforcing and implementing good state initiatives."

Indian women
A woman applies coloured powder to a 'rangoli', a Hindu ritual design, to usher in the New Year in front of a home in Hyderabad on January 1, 2018. The government's Economic Survey 2017-2018 found that more than 65 millions of gilrs are virtually missing in India due to the desire among Indian families to have sons over daughters. NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images

The Economic Survey also analyzed progress the country has made in reducing gender disparity. While India has advanced in some fields, such as decision making regarding household purchase and mandatory maternity leave rules, women and girls still still face discrimination in several areas.

For example, female workforce declined by nearly 10 percent, from 36 percent in 2005-2006 to 24 percent in 2015-2016.

"Just as India has committed to moving up the ranks in the ease of doing business indicators, it should perhaps do so on gender outcomes as well," said the report.

"Here, the aim should be broader. Many of the gender outcomes are manifestations of a deeper societal preference, even meta-preference for boys, leading to many 'missing' women and 'unwanted' girls. So, Indian society as a whole should perhaps resolve—the miles to go before society can sleep in good conscience—to consign these odious categories to history soon."