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'Girl child ignored even in areas with few medical facilities'

Girl child survival is skewed even in those areas of northern India having limited access to public health facilities and modern ultrasound technology as families 'neglect' them to ensure there are few survivors, says a new study.

Since families can not know the sex of the foetus due to lack of technology, girls born in these areas face systematic healthcare neglect, specially in poorer communities to 'dispose them off', says the study.

Allowing the umbilical cord of the newly born girl to get affected, not spending on their healthcare and nutrition and treating their death as 'good riddance' show the neglect faced by girls in these areas, adds the study.

'Disappearing Daughters', the study has covered more than 6,000 families in Kangra in Himachal, Morena in Madhya Pradesh, Dhaulpur in Rajasthan, Rohtak in Haryana and Fategargh Saheb in Punjab.

The study has found the sex ratio even lower compared to one recorded in 2001 census in all the rural and urban sites surveyed, except for Rajasthan.

In Kangra, it has gone down from 900 in 2001 to 789, from 765 to 734 in Fatehgarh, 776 from 785 in Rohtak and 842 from 851 in Morena.

However, the sex ratio has increased in Dhaulpur from 819 in 2001 to 871.

Although there appears to be some improvement in the survival rates for first-born daughters but as family sizes get smaller and parents want fewer children, the survival chances of second and third daughters are plunging, according to the study.

In Morena, the researchers found that a third daughter born into a family now has only half as much chance of survival as a son.

While boy-only families are on the rise, just 3 per cent of families in Morena and Dhaulpur, 6 per cent in urban Kangra and 2 per cent in Fatehgarh Saheb have daughter-only families.

Data from Fatehgarh Saheb shows that families are increasingly stopping at one son. The chances of a second child being born are disproportionately higher if the first child is a daughter.

The problem of declining sex ratios cannot simply be attributed to poverty, says the study. In both, rural and urban sites surveyed, the proportion of girls was significantly lower among those surveyed from the upper caste, compared to the lower caste.

Most shocking of all are the figures for high caste urban Punjab, at just 300 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners were found to perform prenatal sex detection and sex-selective abortions for financial benefits.

The access to sex determination technology and termination of pregnancy both among the poor and the middle, even the upper middle income groups is easy. The laws and regulations are only as effective as its implementation.

During case studies, researchers have often come across mothers who have undergone five to six pregnancies in as many years hoping for a boy.

Ironically, some medical professionals interviewed for the study justified sex-selective abortions as being a 'social duty' which prevented the ill-treatment of unwanted daughters and helped to control the population.

"Every day families come to me for ultrasound scans and the first question they ask is not about whether their baby is healthy, but whether it is a boy or a girl," says Doctor from Morena, who refuses to disclose the sex of the child to the expecting parents.

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