The Indian government found during the Economic Survey of India 2018 that there were more than 63 million women missing from its population and that 2 million go missing across age groups every year due to abortion of female fetuses, disease, neglect and inadequate nutrition. 

Chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian, said at an event, “We know that the sex ratio in India is highly skewed”. The study further showed that Indians have a “meta” son preference, which means that if they have girls, they’ll keep on having children until they get a boy.  

This has led to an estimated 21 million unwanted girls in India, who often get less nourishment and schooling than their brothers. 

The Economic Survey also points out that in India, the sex ratio of the last child is skewed towards male all throughout — for first-born, it is 1.82, 1.55 for the second born, 1.65 for the third child and so on. It further revealed that the sex ratio of last birth (females per hundred births) has merely changed from 39.5 per cent to 39 per cent between 2005-06 and 2015-16. 

Several economic factors such as passing property on to sons, having to pay a dowry for a daughter’s wedding and women moving to their husband’s house after getting married contribute to the meta-preference, according to the study. 

The sex ratio for different states in India worsened even as incomes improved. The wealthy Punjab and Haryana states were most affected with a ratio of 1,200 boys per 1,000 girls in children younger than 7. 

“Perhaps the area where Indian society and this goes beyond governments to civil society, communities, and households need to reflect on the most is what might be called ‘son preference’ where development is not proving to be an antidote,” the survey states. 

Economic gains also caused women’s employment percentages to fall from 36 percent in 2005-06 to 24 percent in 2015-16 as men’s income increased, allowing women to pursue non-work activities such as child rearing. 

“The problem of female infanticide does not seem confined to smaller villages, contrary to common perception,” its report states. “In fact, relatively large urban areas also have this problem.” 

According to the World Health Organisation, the natural sex ratio at birth is considered to be 1.05. This means that at birth, on average, there are 105 males for every 100 females. 

The sex ratio of last birth is biased against females and is lower by 9.5 percentage points in 2015-16 in comparison to other countries. And this has remained stagnant in the last decade.