The Son Meta Preference : 21 Million Unwanted Daughters in India - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Son Meta Preference : 21 Million Unwanted Daughters in India

The Gender Gap in India

Parents in India tend to favor sons as breadwinners and family heirs. Unfortunately, this has resulted in 21 million "unwanted girls", as noted in its Annual Economic Survey issued Monday by the government.

Therefore, it is imperative to change society's perceptions of girls so they receive all of the resources and support necessary to thrive.

The Sex Ratio of the Last Child (SRLC)

The Economic Survey, submitted to Parliament Monday, revealed that India's undying desire for sons has resulted in 21 million "unwanted girls", who tend to receive less nourishment and education than their brothers. While active sex selection through fetus abortion or female infanticide may produce similar effects, subtly selecting male over female infanticide can still produce undesirable offspring; such preferences can be measured through the ratio of last child conceived to male offspring -- something the Survey highlights as evidence.

Indian parents aim to raise boys who will become breadwinners and heirs to their family, so they continue to have children until they produce enough male offspring to satisfy this expectation. Unfortunately, this has negative repercussions for women including lack of access to education, poor health outcomes and dowry-related exploitation. Furthermore, families can be pressured by family members and communities to produce male heirs; such pressure could result in illegal sex selection practices, gender-based abortion and forced marriage of girls in rural India.

While India is making significant strides toward gender equality, the country remains plagued by its preference for sons over daughters, as evidenced by its rank in World Economic Forum's 2021 Women in Economy Survey of 140 out of 156 nations surveyed by this metric. More women entering paid employment can bolster GDP, reduce unemployment, and boost formal sector wages - as shown by its ranking at 140 among 156 nations surveyed by WEF 2021.

The Son Meta-Preference

Parents' efforts to end selective abortion haven't made much progress, so parents have devised another means of keeping their desired son: son meta-preference. Families will keep producing children until one of them is male - thus avoiding abortion while depriving girls of necessary resources such as health, nutrition and education.

The Economic Survey highlighted how India's skewed gender ratio was driven in large part by preferring sons over daughters in poorer families, since daughters' education and health needs tend to be more expensive than boys' needs. Furthermore, families must pay dowries when daughters marry while property must pass to sons.

In addition, the Survey revealed that poor couples in rural areas are under pressure to produce male children. Many poor parents choose not to send their daughters to school and arrange early marriages for their daughters - leaving women unable to join the labor market, thus impairing their economic wellbeing.

The Survey recommended that while India strives to enhance its global rankings for ease of doing business, it also needs to work toward improving gender outcomes - this means addressing societal attitudes that favor sons over daughters that seem inexorably linked with development. India needs to take concrete steps to increase female participation across all aspects of economy.

Child Abortion

India has long been plagued with active sex selection through abortions and unintended pregnancies due to a "son meta-preference", where parents continue having children until they produce one male baby; even though birth rates typically produce one boy for every girl. Cultural norms surrounding inheritance, paying dowries for daughters, and rituals performed by male children tend to reinforce this preference and it has long been difficult for society to shift the tendency in its favor.

Low and middle income countries experience 55% of unintended pregnancies among adolescents to end in abortion, which are often unsafe. Furthermore, teenage pregnancy poses serious health risks to mothers such as eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, low birth weight and chorioamnionitis - according to this survey India should take steps to raise its legal marriage age from 16-18 for girls.

It advocates increasing employment opportunities for women and ensuring access to contraception for them. It acknowledges that while government programs such as "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" and "Sukanya Samridhi Yojana" have made progress towards increasing female labour force participation (largely due to agricultural mechanization limiting demand), increasing wages will make this more likely and help women provide for themselves and their families more effectively.

Child Marriage

The Economic Survey tabled in parliament with a pink cover to honor #MeToo movement underscored how India's women's rights have advanced while society still prioritizes sons - this "son meta-preference" leads to 21 million unwanted girls with less access to resources.

Over the past decade, more than two million Indian women have vanished from society due to sex-selective abortion, disease, neglect and inadequate nutrition according to India's National Family Health Survey (NFHS). Although more Indian women than ever before are educated, employed and earning, regressive social norms and men's disproportionate power over women continue to drive this gap between education, employment and earnings of both sexes.

India must address its society's bias toward sons, according to a survey. Alongside expanding women's opportunities and access to finance, child marriage must also be reduced: this limits options, reduces earnings contributions to the economy and increases risks such as violence or HIV infection for both children and their spouses.

Women who marry as children are less likely to attend school and may never reach their full potential. By altering cultural beliefs about gender roles and supporting girls' education and employment opportunities, child marriage can be prevented and their futures decided upon freely. By supporting organizations working towards ending child marriage and increasing opportunities by challenging regressive norms is another essential step toward realizing women's potentials.