Last week a beaming parent came into my office. She was pregnant. M is the mother of 3 boys the eldest one being 12. She is expecting her fourth child. She proudly announced that it was a girl. I was shocked to say the least, shocked at the need of this impoverished family to have another child, shocked at the fact that she had been able to determine the sex of the child, something that is supposedly illegal. This meant that such tests were administered with impunity by wily and greedy doctors. We all know what this means. Wonder how many little girls are killed before they are born. At least this one would survive. I mumbled feigned congratulations and moved on.
Yesterday I stopped by the creche. Many new faces greeted me. These were all the new admissions in the class as many had graduated to class I. I spent some time talking to the teacher but my eyes kept going back on the children. Something was askew. It took some time to realise what it was: there were more boys than girls. I asked he teacher if I was right and she told me I was. The sex ratio of our new class was 70/30!
Now children in this class come from very deprived homes of slums in Okhla. Every year we go to these slums to seek new admissions. The families are all of migrant labour from other states and most of the parents have poorly paid jobs. The teacher told me that this time she could not find more girls. We are talking of children between the ages of 3 and 4. It seemed that there far fewer girls in this age group than boys. The news was startling and raised many questions. Did arriving in the city open the possibility of getting a sex determination test? Were girls foetuses being aborted regularly? Was there something we could do?
This simple observation made me realise that the problem was not limited to rural areas and other states but was at our very doorstep. The facts were for all to see. Normally the creche class had a 50/50 sex ratio. Delhi boasted of a 1004/1000 sex ratio in 2008. But an article revealed that this had dipped to 915/1000 in 2009. This means that illegal sex determination is very much alive and prevalent in poorer sections of the city. Families prefer to spend money on abortions than give birth to a girl which is considered to be a financial burden.
Gender equality is an issue that needs to be addressed. This is no easy task keeping in mind social biases and prejudices.