Child sex ratio is the number of girls aged 0-6 years for every 1,000 boys in the same age group. It is a crucial measure for India where preference for sons and the desire for smaller families has driven down the number of girls to low levels in the past several decades. The child sex ratio for the whole country now stands at 918, dipping further from 927 in 2001, and reaching the lowest level since 1961.
Among Hindus, who make up nearly 80% of the population, the child sex ratio declined from 925 in 2001 to 913 in the latest Census data. This is the biggest decline — of 12 points — among all religious communities and a chilling reminder for the continuing need for much more robust action to save the girl child.
The Christian and Muslim communities too showed declines though not as much as among the Hindus. The child sex ratio among Christians declined from 964 to 958 while among the Muslims, it declined from 950 to 943.
The turnaround among Sikhs and Jains is a silver lining in this rather bleak scenario because these communities had the worst sex ratios despite being generally better off and better educated. It reflects a growing consciousness about the issue created in part by considerable public campaigns in Punjab where most Sikhs live. However, the ratio is still dangerously low in both communities.
Christians have the best population sex ratio, with 1,023 females for every 1,000 males, way ahead of all other communities and the national average of 943. Hindus and Sikhs have the worst sex ratios, at 939 and 903 respectively. At 951, Muslims have a better sex ratio than Hindus and Sikhs but lagging behind Buddhists (965) and Jains (951).
The latest Census data also sheds light on the growth of literacy among various religious communities. Muslims, who showed the lowest literacy rate of 59% in 2001, recorded the biggest increase and reached 69% in 2011. Although still short of the national average of 73%, and still the lowest among all religious communities, the gap is rapidly closing.
Jains continue to have the highest literacy rate, at 95%, followed by the Christians who are now at 85%. All communities are showing a much higher rate of growth of female literacy than male literacy. Overall, across India, female literacy jumped from 54% to 65% while male literacy rose from 75% to 81%.
The data shows that for all the efforts thus far, the child sex ratio continues to fall for most communities except those in which it was already at abysmally low levels. This must be reversed. Strict enforcement of government controls on sex selection tests is one part of what needs to be done, but cannot be the sole answer. That must be combined with more vigorous campaigns for awareness about discrimination against the girl child being a social evil and with incentives for people to have daughters. Some tax breaks already exist, but there needs to be more thought given to devicing more such incentives.