In India, there is an average of 239,000 excess deaths per year of girls under the age of five or 2.4 million in a decade, and excess female child mortality is found in 90% of districts in the country, found new study.
The average level of excess mortality in girls aged 0-4 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 gender discrimination. Around 22% 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.
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% 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.
"Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn't simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death 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 child mortality, 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.