Gender discrimination results in the deaths of extra 239,000 girls per year in India

May 15, 2018, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Number of annual excess female under-5 deaths in Indian districts, circa 2003. Credit: Guilmoto et al 2018

A new study has found that there is an average of 239,000 excess deaths per year of girls under the age of five in India, or 2.4 million in a decade, and excess female child mortality is found in 90 percent of districts in the country.

The average level of in aged zero to four in the study period of 2000-2005 was 18.5 per 1000 live births, compared to the expected mortality of girl children aged under five in areas of the world without known . Around 22 percent of the overall mortality burden of females under five is therefore due to gender bias.

IIASA postdoctoral research scholar Nandita Saikia says that the new research shows that the burden of excess female deaths in India is huge. It is the first time that the number of excess deaths amongst girls under five in India has been studied at the district level, showing specific geographic patterns of excess female mortality across India's 640 districts.

In all, 29 out of 35 states in India had overall excess mortality in girls under five, and all states and territories bar two had at least one district with excess mortality. However, the level varies.

The problem is most pronounced in northern India, where the four largest states in the region, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, account for two thirds of the total excess deaths of females under five. In Uttar Pradesh excess female mortality was calculated at 30.5. In Bihar, the rate is 28.5, in Rajasthan it was 25.4, and in Madhya Pradesh, it was 22.1. In parts of western Rajasthan and northern Bihar, excess mortality as a result of gender bias accounts for 30-50 percent of the mortality rate of females under five.

The worst affected areas are all rural, agricultural areas with lower levels of education, high population densities, low socioeconomic development and high levels of fertility. The researchers say that many deaths of females under five are partly down to unwanted child bearing and subsequent neglect. Higher levels of female literacy and employment in more modern industries is linked to lower levels of excess in females under five.

"As the regional estimates of excess deaths of girls demonstrate, any intervention to reduce the discrimination against girls in food and health care allocation should therefore target in priority regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where poverty, low social development, and patriarchal institutions persist and investments on girls are limited," says Saikia. "The sustained fertility decline currently observed in North India is likely to lead to a reduction in postnatal discrimination. Unless son preference diminishes, lower fertility, however, might bring about a rise in gender-biased sex selection as was observed 20 years ago in Western India. This reinforces the need to address directly the issue of gender discrimination in addition to encouraging social and economic development for its benefits on Indian women."

Interestingly, the results do not coincide with areas with known skewed sex ratios at birth, such as Punjab, Gujarat, and Mahrashtra. Co-researcher Christophe Guilmoto from the Université Paris Descartes, France, says that for too long, the focus has been on prenatal sex selection.

"Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn't simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the of those who are born," he says. "Gender equity is not only about rights to education, employment or political representation. It is also about care, vaccination, and nutrition of girls, and ultimately survival."

Saikia notes that if there were no excess female deaths in India, the country could have achieved its Millennium Development Goal target on , of 42 deaths per 1,000 births, very easily.

"Discrimination towards the girl child is not justified. There is a need to change mentality. Rather than discriminating against them it is necessary to raise their value through education and self-dependence," says Saikia.

Explore further: Sex bias kills 240,000 infant girls in India yearly: study

Related Stories

Sex bias kills 240,000 infant girls in India yearly: study

May 15, 2018
Almost a quarter-of-a-million girls younger than five die in India every year due to neglect resulting from society's preference for sons, a gender discrimination study found on Tuesday.

India has 21 million 'unwanted' girls

January 29, 2018
The desire of Indian parents for sons has created an estimated 21 million "unwanted" girls because couples keep having children until they produce a boy, the government said Monday.

Abortion of female fetuses and more death among girls result in poor female child survival in India

October 8, 2013
Modern ultrasound technology and economic pressure leads to female fetuses in the Ballabgarh area of northern India being aborted more often than male fetuses. Additionally, girls up to the age of five die more frequently ...

15,000 under fives die from preventable illnesses each day: UN

October 19, 2017
Despite a dramatic fall in the infant mortality rate, 15,000 children aged under five still die each day around the world from preventable diseases, a UN report said Thursday.

Diabetes-related mortality in Germany higher than expected

November 22, 2017
In the October 2017 issue of the journal Diabetes Care, DDZ scientists published their study on the number of deaths in Germany due to diabetes and its complications. The number of diabetes-related deaths worldwide has doubled ...

Recommended for you

Bullying and violence at work increases the risk of cardiovascular disease

November 19, 2018
People who are bullied at work or experience violence at work are at higher risk of heart and brain blood vessel problems, including heart attacks and stroke, according to the largest prospective study to investigate the ...

A low-gluten, high-fiber diet may be healthier than gluten-free

November 16, 2018
When healthy people eat a low-gluten and fibre-rich diet compared with a high-gluten diet, they experience less intestinal discomfort including less bloating. Researchers at University of Copenhagen show that this is due ...

Youth dating violence shaped by parents' conflict-handling views, study finds

November 16, 2018
Parents who talk to their children about nonviolent ways of resolving conflict may reduce children's likelihood of physically or psychologically abusing their dating partners later—even when parents give contradictory messages ...

Why we shouldn't like coffee, but we do

November 15, 2018
Why do we like the bitter taste of coffee? Bitterness evolved as a natural warning system to protect the body from harmful substances. By evolutionary logic, we should want to spit it out.

Dietary fat is good? Dietary fat is bad? Coming to consensus

November 15, 2018
Which is better, a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet or a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet—or is it the type of fat that matters? In a new paper featured on the cover of Science magazine's special issue on nutrition, researchers ...

Low-carb diets cause people to burn more calories

November 14, 2018
Most people regain the weight they lose from dieting within one or two years, in part because the body adapts by slowing metabolism and burning fewer calories. A meticulous study led by Boston Children's Hospital, in partnership ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.