A Study on Child Sex Ratio in Nagaland
For about a month, we did a study in 19 villages of Longleng and Mon districts. The study was the fulfilling of a promise that the Department of Health and Family Welfare made to the Planning Commission. PC flagged the issue of decrease in Child Sex Ratio (CSR) in the State of Nagaland from 2001 to 2011 and the department said that we'll do a study to see if it is true. CSR is the measure of how many girls are there per 1000 boys in the age group of 0-6 years.
In Nagaland, CSR reduced from 964 in 2001 to 944 in 2011 as per the census. 2001 figure is unreliable and more male names might have been put, or the ratio was really so despite population inflation. So, it is difficult to say 'decline in 2011' when the base year figure is questionable. And 2011 figure is higher than the national average of 914. So, nothing to worry?
The worrying bit is that in a natural setting, the CSR is expected to be about 952. So, Nagaland is short of the expected by 8. That's not very worrying. It may be population inflation again in the 2011 census, although not as bad as 2001.
But here's the thing. The more 'worrying' ( don't worry, that will be the last time I use the word) bit is that in Longleng and Mon, the CSR is 882 and 900. Now that is something. 'Faulty census' we may be quick to say, but unless there is proof, that will just be an opinion. So, we set out to investigate.
What we were not prepared for in our guts was 'what if the census is right?' Although as researchers, we kept all options open. And yes, we were in for a surprise.
We purposely picked the blocks which showed the least CSR in Nagaland: Sakshi circle (10 census villages) of Longleng district and Chen circle (9 census villages) of Mon district. Before I bore you with the methodology, who we employed, how we traveled or who among us sleep-walked, let me get straight to the findings. And findings only on CSR.
To our surprise, CSR was indeed low in both the circles. There were only 794 girls (per 1000 boys) in Sakshi and 877 in Chen circles. Most shocking was that in Sakshi circle, our figure was even lower than the census (816).
What could be the reason(s)? We broke our heads over this. We applied all the factors and explanations which bring down CSR of a population and applied to our study. We reviewed literature and had discussion after discussions. Now, it is a complete book.
Killing of female fetus? Unlikely. For sex selective abortion, there is no ultrasound machine in the entire district of Longleng for sex determination. And no evidence of it anywhere. All the 19 villages surveyed are rural which makes it more unlikely. People may travel out for sex determination and female foeticide but that is unlikely (here we go again with the word) to bring down the ratio.
What about female infanticide? Killing of girl child (0-1 age). No trace of it. If there should be 1 case, that will be a shock to the society. Therefore, no chance of bringing down the ratio.
What about more girls dying? Not so in the 0-1 age group. More boys die in 0-1 age group. Among children 1-5 years of age, a few more girls die but statistically insignificant to affect the ratio.
Did we do it wrong? Faulty census, and faulty counting in our study? The study was done rigorously with mechanisms for cross-checking of data collection, entry, and analysis. Among the questions asked, the answer which is least likely to go wrong is on asking whether a person is a male or female.
Is it natural? Hard to say, among the villages, there are a number of villages which have very high CSR and very low CSR. What are the differences between these villages with very different CSR? Not much. Neighboring villages with similar characteristics (same tribe with similar climate, altitude, health care facilities, food, social institutions, etc.) have very different CSR.
What about social status of women and other social and economic factors? We tried to understand as much as possible. There is a need for more research. But even if there should be gender bias, there has to be dying somewhere to bring down the ratio. Therefore it is a puzzle that CSR should be low.
Now, what do we draw from here? Even if it should be natural variations (which may be the major contributory factor), the fact the CSR is low is important for us. We are happy that we have not come across any sex selective abortion. But we do know for sure that there is a lot to be done on gender justice. If CSR is low, down the line we'll have social problems: not getting women to marry, women trafficking, and crumbling in social institutions among others.
Therefore, there is a need to proactively plan a comprehensive communication and advocacy strategy to improve awareness on the risks of low CSR, strengthen implementation of law to prevent sex determination, revisit the mindset on status of women in the society, improve health of girl child and women, improve our data and reporting systems.