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No takers for gender talks

New Delhi, Nov. 13: India’s proposal to discuss the declining sex ratio at the first-ever conference of Saarc health ministers here from tomorrow has been shot down.

“During our discussion on the agenda, officials of other Saarc countries told us that female foeticide is a country-specific problem and not a problem of the entire region,” Union health minister Sushma Swaraj said.

“We will, however, have references to the problem in our discussions,” she added.

Among the countries that are part of the South Asian regional forum, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have a sex ratio to the advantage of females. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have low sex ratios with India placed at the bottom of the ladder. According to the 2001 census, India has 927 girls per 1,000 boys.

Ministry officials said Pakistan will have no record of female foeticide since abortion is illegal there. However, unlike in India, the sex ratio in Pakistan is improving.

In Bangladesh, according to studies, fertility decline seems to have coincided with a growing tolerance for daughters. “There is no increasing distortion in the sex ratio among children. Infant mortality rates show similar improvements among boys and girls,” says a study.

A study by Unesco on gender parity in education recently revealed that Bangladesh has achieved gender parity in primary education while India is still struggling to reach that level.

It pointed out that the use of sex-selective abortion of females is widespread in India, China, South Korea and Taiwan. “There is, however, no convincing evidence of substantial use of pre-natal sex detection followed by abortion of female foetuses in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam,” the study said.

India, however, is doing much better than either Pakistan or Bangladesh in the gender-related development index, which includes employment and job opportunities.

This year’s human development report of the United Nations Development Programme ranks India in the 103rd position, while Bangladesh occupies the 112th position and Pakistan 120th.

What India is failing to grapple with, officials said, is the problem of female foeticide, which has hit even affluent states like Punjab, Delhi and Haryana hard. The continuing skewed sex ratio and the unhindered practice of female foeticide have made policymakers sit up but they seem to have made little progress in curbing the practice.

Continuing trends have also shown that education is not a constraining factor for female foeticide. “In fact foeticide is flourishing among the better educated and the well-heeled,” said Meera Siva of the Voluntary Health Association of India.

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