An estimated 2,39,000 girls under the age of five die in India each year due to neglect linked to gender discrimination, a new study has found. The study was conducted by Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and was published in Lancet Global Health. The figure, which amounts to 2.4 million deaths a decade, does not include pre-natal mortality rates.
The study concludes that excess female Under 5 Mortality Rate (U5MR) was 18.5 per 1,000 live births in India, which corresponds to an estimated 2,39,000 excess deaths per year. More than 90% of districts had excess female mortality, but the four largest states in northern India (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh) accounted for two-thirds of India’s total number. Low economic development, gender inequity, and high fertility were the main predictors of excess female mortality. Spatial analysis confirmed the strong spatial clustering of post-natal discrimination against girls in India.
The extent of excess female mortality greatly varies among states, ranging from 0 per 1,000 live births to 30 per 1,000 live births. The mean amount of excess female under-5 mortality exceeds 20 per 1,000 live births in eight out of 35 states and union Territories: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Meghalaya, and Nagaland. Except for two states in the northeast, all these states are in northern India. Uttar Pradesh, which is India’s most populated state, has the highest number of sex differentials in mortality (30.5 per 1,000 live births). By contrast, the other large states of Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu have excess female mortality that is well below the national average.
Contrary to variations of skewed birth masculinity, the social composition of the population had a negligible role in variations of excess female under-5 mortality. The apparent link with the underprivileged Dalit (Scheduled Castes) population disappears in the models used for study. The study showed that female under-5 mortality is significantly decreased among Muslim and tribal (Scheduled Tribes) populations. These correlations are consistent with previous findings showing that preference of a son tends to be more pronounced among specific religious groups, such as Hindus.
“Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn’t simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born,” wrote the study’s co-researcher Christophe Guilmoto in the Lancet medical journal. “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,” added Guilmoto.
The report is the first to examine the number of avoidable deaths among girls under five in India at a district level, showing specific geographic patterns of avoidable female mortality across India’s 640 districts. Avoidable or excess mortality is defined as the difference between observed and expected mortality rates.
“Around 22% of the overall mortality burden of females under five is therefore due to gender bias,” the study’s authors, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis a scientific institute based in Austria, said a press release..
The study’s co-author Nandita Saikia, from the IIASA, said that the findings reinforced the need to address directly the issue of gender discrimination in addition to “encouraging social and economic development for its benefits on Indian women.”