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India combats sex-selective abortion as gender ratio loses balance

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
An Indian nurse cares for new born babies in a nursery at a maternity hospital in Kolkata on September 1, 2010.
An Indian nurse cares for new born babies in a nursery at a maternity hospital in Kolkata on September 1, 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new census in India counts 914 girls under age 6 per every 1,000 boys that age
  • That's a drop from a decade ago and the lowest ratio in modern India's history
  • Gender-based abortions are a problem in India due to cultural concerns
RELATED TOPICS
  • India

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- Indians' preference for sons over daughters has manifested itself in a worrisome population imbalance in the world's second-most populous nation, according to a preliminary census report released this week.

The 2011 census recorded an alarming drop in the percentage of girls among India's preschoolers. For every 1,000 boys aged up to 6 years old, the report counted 914 girls, a drop from 927 a decade ago.

That's the lowest ratio since India gained independence in 1947, said the preliminary census.

It's illegal in India to abort a child just because of its sex, but such abortions happen, often aided by illegal clinics.

"The reasons for high number of incidence of female feticide in India include a deep-rooted traditional son preference, continued practice of dowry and concern for safety of the girl child and exploitation and abuse of women and girl children," India's Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath told Parliament last month.

To try to restore balance, several Indian states have announced incentives for the birth of baby girls and have criminalized sex-selective abortions, she said.

Tirath also stressed that socio-economic empowerment of women is essential to help them make informed decisions and change their mind sets.

Among Indian adults, the ratio of men to women has taken a slightly positive turn for females. There are now 940 women to every 1,000 men, compared to 933 in the previous census, taken in 2001.

India's population grew 17 percent in the last decade and now stands at 1.21 billion, the report said. That's more than the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan put together. While the growth rate was slower than in the 2001 census, forecasters predict India will surpass China as the most-populated nation in the world by 2030.