Srinagar: Nearly 25 percent of men and women in Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) want more sons than daughters, reveals the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS).

However, the other way round, people who want more daughters than sons come down to almost 7 percent, as per the data reviewed by The Kashmir Walla.

Due to a deep gender bias, cultural practices, and regressive customs the female children are still looked down upon and considered a burden in the society. The major reason for this belief is “the patriarchal mindset of our society”, said Dr. Shazia Malik, Assistant Professor at the University of Kashmir’s Centre for Women’s Studies and Research. 

“We live in a patrilineal society and there is a presumption that women are inherently weak and always in need of protection,” she told The Kashmir Walla in a phone interview. “[The belief is that] if [women] go ‘out of control’, they might harm the honor of the family or the community. So, people consider raising a girl child a bigger responsibility.”

Despite several government-run schemes and policies, the situation has not improved. Speaking about the survey, the spokesperson for the Directorate of Health Services, Kashmir, Dr. Mir Mushtaq said: “There have been a lot of schemes to generate awareness about how a girl child is as important as a male child; about their rights and their education.” 

He added: “Certain beliefs and mindsets don’t change overnight.”

In the last 15 years, however, the data illustrates that the government has failed to bring any difference. The percentage of women who want sons more than daughters has decreased by 0.6 percent from the survey conducted in 2005-2006 and the same for men has increased by 0.9 percent.

“People have become more insecure about having female children because of the rising violence against women,” Dr. Malik added. “[And] parents or to-be parents fear that they will have to bear the brunt of dowry and exploitation by in-laws.”

This bias against a girl child, rampant in south Asian societies, also further plays out in sex-selective abortions. Hence, India accounts for nearly half of the world’s ‘missing females’. 

The country outlawed prenatal sex determination in 1994. It is safeguarded under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC-PNDT) Act, which was enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India. But it remains a widely flouted law.

“We don’t have any such issues in our union territory,” said Dr. Mushtaq about prenatal sex determination. “There is a reasonable decrease but we can’t attribute it to prenatal testing or sex-selective abortions. Sometimes, there are just natural variations.” 

“The Health and Family Department will analyze the data and look into it to see what measures can be taken,” he told The Kashmir Walla.

A Kashmiri gender activist said that society doesn’t see anything wrong with sex-selective abortions. They further pointed out that “the NFHS data is not very reliable given the small sample size and variations in data”.

Though other data factors point to a similar pattern as well. For instance, the Sample Registration System (SRS), a demographic survey providing annual estimates of the total number of births and deaths, records the SRB (Sex Ratio at Birth) for J-K coming down from 927 females per 1000 male births in 2016-18 to 918 2017-19. 

Whereas, the Civil Registration System (CRS), which collects the data on registered births and deaths, shows a dip and rise in the Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) in J-K: 952 (females per 1000 male births), 909, and 967 in 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively.

“People don’t see it [sex determination and sex-selective abortions] as an issue, we have to raise this as an issue,” the gender activist said. “Only then will there be the discourse required to fight this issue.”

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