Gender Bias Starts Early: When Ill, More Infant Boys Get Special Care
A shocking trend of gender bias has now come to light, involving India’s tiniest children – sick new-borns.
Data released by UNICEF in a first ever global maternal and new-born conference in Mexico has revealed that female new-borns who are born underweight or ill and has a high chance of mortality aren’t being admitted to the government’s special new-born care units (SNCUs) by their parents due to their gender.
The same isn’t true when it comes to a male child.
Data from India’s 600 special new-born care units (SNCUs) – meant for small and sick children which at present treats 700,000 new-borns every year, shows that only 40% of the admissions are girl children while 60% are male children.
UN officials who sifted through years of records also showcased state wise data at the conference attended by over 418 organizations from across 74 countries.
It showed that Telengana was among India’s best states as far as female child admissions to SNCUs were concerned but even then the percentage was as low as 45%.
The other large states are worse – Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have an admission rate of 44% for girl children, Andhra Pradesh 43%, Karnataka 42.5%, Chattisgarh, Haryana and Assam 40%, Orissa 39.5%, Madhya Pradesh 39%, Himachal 38% and Rajasthan 37%.
UN scientists told TOI “this data clearly shows an inadequate access for female child in India to SNCUs. While 41,1511 of the admissions were of male children in the Indian SNCUs, it was 2,78,983 when it came to female children.
Inspite of free care made available by the government, cultural barriers are leading to discrimination as parents aren’t bringing the girl children to SNCUs if born ill or underweight”.
The scientists added “India is the only country in the world where under-five mortality among female children is higher than males. The latest data shows discrimination starts early in life and later leads to adverse sex ratio which is now 909 females per 1000 males in India”.
Professor Vinod K Paul, head of the department of paediatrics at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences told on the side lines of the conference “I am pained when I see this trend which is still very rampant.
In our SNCUs, for every two boys getting admitted, only one girl gets admitted. The boys must get admitted but where is the second girl? It is a societal issue. Time has come to get all sick new born girls into the hospital”.
Dr Paul added “The bias in favour of boys in SNCUs is now 60:40. It used to 67%:33%. The bias against girls aren’t acceptable. We need an overall behaviour change with politicians, beauracrats and teachers saying girls deserve a chance.
Also we can look at if we can create facilitative pathways where financial hardship that comes with facility care is taken care of. The government does have the Janani Shishu Suraksha Karikram where everything is free.
But I wonder if we can get an extra attraction for bringing a girl child in? Maybe we can increase present day benefits under JSSK from one year to till five years of age”.
Around 26 million babies are born in India annually of which 5%-10% need special care at birth. India’s first SNCU came up in 2003 in Purulia, West Bengal while Madhya Pradesh was the first state in India to create SNCUs in all its districts.
India now has 600 SNCUs each of which has 10-12 nurses and four doctors. These units have been instrumental in reducing neonatal mortality of India by 20% in the last five years. While the neonatal mortality rate at present is 28 per 1000 live births, in the year 2000 it was 35.
At present 700,000 children die in the first 28 days of life annually in India – quarter of the global new-born deaths while 57% of the under five deaths are within the first four weeks of life.
An earlier study by AIIMS had found that among children who require heart surgery, boys have a much better chance of undergoing the procedure than girls.
The study estimates that for every 70 boys who undergo an operation for congenital heart defect, only 22 girls undergo the surgery.
The families of 31 out of 134 girls (23.1%) felt the need to conceal the illness of their child from relatives and friends compared with just 4 out of 271 (1.5%) boys’ families.