The news from India’s 2011 census is almost all heartening. Literacy is up; life expectancy is up; family size is stabilising. But there is one grim exception. In 2011 India counted only 914 girls aged six and under for every 1,000 boys.
Parents choose to abort female fetuses not because they do not want or love their daughters, but because they feel they must have sons (usually for social reasons); they also want smaller families—and something has to give. Ultrasound technology ensures that this something is a generation of unborn daughters, because it lets them know the sex of a fetus. Sex selection therefore tends to increase with education and income: wealthier, better educated people are more likely to want fewer children and can more easily afford the scans.
But whereas sex selection may be understandable for a family, it is disastrous for a nation. It is an extreme expression of an attitude that says daughters are worth less than sons—a belief that is damaging both to women and to the next generation, since healthier, better educated mothers have healthier, better-educated children.
Throughout human history, young men have been responsible for the vast preponderance of crime and violence—especially single men in countries where status and social acceptance depend on being married and having children, as it does in China and India. A rising population of frustrated single men spells trouble..
The crime rate has almost doubled in China during the past 20 years of rising sex ratios, with stories abounding of bride abduction, the trafficking of women, rape and prostitution. A study into whether these things were connected concluded that they were, and that higher sex ratios accounted for about one-seventh of the rise in crime.
South Korea was the first country to report exceptionally high sex ratios and has been the first to cut them. Between 1985 and 2003, the share of South Korean women who told national health surveyors that they felt “they must have a son” fell by almost two-thirds, from 48% to 17%. After a lag of a decade, the sex ratio began to fall in the mid-1990s and is now 110 to 100. Ms Das Gupta argues that though it takes a long time for social norms favoring sons to alter, and though the transition can be delayed by the introduction of ultrasound scans, eventually change will come
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