Despite govt schemes, NFHS-5 says Odisha’s child sex ratio is dropping

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BHUBANESWAR: Odisha’s child sex ratio has plummeted to its lowest ever, according to the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) that reported 894 female children for every 1000 males despite central and state government initiatives for the girl child. In 2015-16, the child sex ratio in Odisha was estimated at 932.

Child sex ratio is defined as the number of girls per 1000 boys between 0-6 years of age is considered a strong indicator of social health. The adverse sex ratios not only indicate poor social health, but also a barrier to attaining sustainable social development.

Odisha health secretary RK Sharma and woman child development secretary Anu Garg did not comment on the NFHS-5 findings.

The NFHS-5 was conducted on population, health, and nutrition across the country. Due to the Covid-19 situation and the lockdown that followed, NFHS-5 fieldwork in Odisha was conducted in two phases -January 19, 2020, to March 21, 2020, prior to the lockdown and November 30, 2020, to March 31, 2021, post lockdown by the Indian Institute of Health Management Research. The findings are based on a survey of 26,467 households, 27,971 women, and 3,865 men.

According to the NFHS-5, the decline in the child sex ratio was reported from urban and rural areas. In urban areas, the ratio declined from 966 in 2015-16 to 950 in 2020-21 in urban areas. In rural areas, the ratio dropped from 926 in 2015-16 to 855 in 2020-21.

However, the overall sex ratio rose from 1,036 in 2015-16 to 1063 in 2020-21.

Professor Sanjukta Das of Sambalpur University who has researched the declining child sex ratio of Odisha said it showed patriarchal mindset continues to prevail in the state.

“While states such as Haryana, UP and Rajasthan showed an appreciable rise in child sex ratio in last 5 years, the same is on a downward spiral in Odisha. This shows that rising literacy and the latest technology is used by parents to eliminate the possibility of the birth of a girl child. If we continue like this, then only God can save us,” said Das.

The declining child sex ratio in Odisha in NFHS-5 for the first time put it below the national average of 929, which has increased by 10 points since NFHS-4.

The child sex ratio of Odisha since 1961 has always been better than the national average. In the 1961 census, Odisha’s ratio was 1,035 which declined to 1,020 in 1971, 995 in 1981, 967 in 1991, 953 in 2001 and 941 in 2011.

Woman activist Pramila Swain of the National Alliance of Woman said policy measures such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao or Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana of Naveen Patnaik government have largely failed on the ground. “These policies have not been able to change the mindset of parents who continue to opt for boys over girls. The state has also failed to strictly implement the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994,” said Swain.

In 2016-17, the Naveen Patnaik government had launched the Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana in the districts of Angul, Dhenkanal and Ganjam infamous for low child sex ratios. The scheme aimed at providing elementary education to girls, improving their access to education, reducing the school drop-out ratio of girls from schools, sensitising adolescent girls on sexual and reproductive health issues and training elected representatives and grassroots functionaries as community champions to mobilise communities to improve the sex ratio.

Nutritionist Basant Kar said the rise of anaemia among children in the 6 months to 6 years age group from 44.6 in NFHS-4 to 64.2 in NFHS-5 was also a reason for the declining child sex ratio. “In rural areas as well as urban areas, the girls would be the most discriminated when it comes to food and this is the reason for rising anaemia,” said Kar.

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