In Depth

Sexism ‘kills 239,000 girls a year in India’

Study finds female children die at higher rates than males in 29 of India’s 35 states

Discrimination against female children is responsible for around 240,000 deaths in India every year, according to a new study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

Scientists from the Vienna-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis compared lndia to 46 other countries and calculated that Indian girls aged under five died at the rate of around 18.5 per 1,000, higher than their counterparts in more egalitarian countries.

Overall, the study found that 22% of deaths in this age and gender group were ‘excess’ mortality, meaning that they exceed the expected average and are therefore considered avoidable deaths.

All but six of India’s 35 states exhibited an overall excess mortality in girls under five, but the trend was especially pronounced in northern India, CNN reports. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh accounted for two-thirds of the total excess deaths.

The highest concentration occurred in “poor, rural, farming regions with low education levels, high population densities, and high birth rates”, says Times Now.

Researchers say that the skewed death rates of female children are at least partly the result of “unwanted childbearing and subsequent neglect”, Time magazine reports, in addition to discrimination in access to food and healthcare compared to male children.

The figure does not include sex-selective abortions, which remain commonplace despite government attempts to crack down on the practice.

Study co-author Christophe Guilmoto of Paris Descartes University said the figures were a stark reminder of the deadly consequences of discrimination.

“Gender equity is not only about rights to education, employment or political representation,” he said. “It is also about care, vaccination, and nutrition of girls, and ultimately survival.

“Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn't simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born.”

Earlier this year, it was reported that an economic survey carried out by the Indian government had estimated that sex-selective abortions and other discriminatory practices had resulted in an gender-imbalanced population which is “missing” 63 million women and girls.

Rather than a cause for celebration, for some Indian families “the birth of a daughter can be a time of embarrassment and even mourning as parents look towards the immense debts they will need to take on to pay for marriage dowries”, The Guardian reports.

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