According to the State of World Population 2020 report released by the United Nations Populations Fund on Tuesday, India accounted for around 45.8 million of the world’s 142.6 million “missing females” over the past 50 years. The report added that India along with China forms the majority of such missing women globally. The report also mentioned around 19 harmful practices, ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing, which are considered human rights violations but are still carried out.

The report titled ‘Against my will – Defying the practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality‘ focuses on three most prevalent human rights violations against girls: female genital mutilation, child marriage, and extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons. “Harmful practices against girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their full potential,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem in a press release.

“Missing females” are those whose numbers are reflected in sex ratio imbalances at birth as a result of gender-biased (prenatal) sex selection, combined with excess female mortality stemming from postnatal sex selection.

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The Missing Females

The report highlighted how an extreme preference for sons over daughters in some countries has fueled gender-biased sex selection or extreme neglect that leads to their death as children, resulting in 140 million “missing females.” In fact, the number of “missing women” has more than doubled over the past 50 years – from 61 million in 1970 to a cumulative 142.6 million in 2020. Of these, India accounted for 45.8 million missing females as of 2020 and China accounted for 72.3 million.

“Between 2013 and 2017, about 460,000 girls in India were ‘missing’ at birth each year. According to one analysis, gender-biased sex selection accounts for about two-thirds of the total missing girls, and post-birth female mortality accounts for about one-third,” the report stated. The number of females who were missing because of gender-biased sex selection as of 2015 was larger than those who were missing because of postnatal sex selection.

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In India, imbalances in sex ratio at birth were first observed in 1980.

China and India—together account for about 90 percent to 95 percent of the estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million missing female births annually worldwide due to gender-biased (prenatal) sex selection.

Excess Death Rates Of Girls Highest In India

The report also states that India has the highest rate of excess female deaths – around 13.5 deaths per 1000 female births. Excess death rates are those which exceed the number of deaths that were projected under normal conditions.  This, the report says, can be attributed to postnatal sex selection. Further, it suggests that one in nine deaths of girls below the age of five years can be attributed to postnatal sex selection. However, globally, this figure has declined from the peak value of around two million such deaths annually between the 1970s and 1990s.

Child Marriage

One key area where India has performed exceptionally good is its efforts towards curbing child marriage. The report highlighted that advances in India with respect to child marriage have contributed to as much as a 50 percent decline in child marriage in South Asia. However, this region still accounts for the highest number of child marriages globally. On the other hand, practices like dowry still remain widespread even after consistent efforts. Further, the report says that in India, 51 percent of young women with no education and 47 percent of young women with only primary education were married by 18 years of age. This prevalence of marriage is far lower among boys.

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