Why We Need Femicide Observatories in India

Statistics of India

Femicide covers a wide range of gender related murder such as foeticide, infanticide, intimate partner femicide and India-specific cases such as dowry marriage femicides and ‘honor-killings’. There are three main sources available to understand the prevalence of femicide in India. These three sources use different survey methodologies and criteria and are conducted over different time periods.

  • The decennial Census of India
  • The annual report by India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)
  • The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India conducted in 1992-93, 1998-99, 2005-06 and 2015-16

The Economic Survey (based on NFHS)

India made headlines in 2018 when the Economic Survey 2017-18 was presented at parliament featuring a pink cover page. This report focused on India’s gender demographics and the development of the role of women over the past 10-15 years. The analysis was based on the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) datasets from 1980 to 2016 and the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). The report stated, at least twice, the existence of an estimated 63 million ‘missing’ women in India. It further stated that more than 2 million women, across all age groups, go missing every year. (6) The number of missing women given by the Government of India is even higher than the estimate recorded by Ms. Banerji’s missing girl campaign (50 million). The huge difference in numbers (approximately 13 million) demonstrates lack of accurate data, highlighting urgent need for a femicide observatory. This discrepancy is also caused due to a lack of uniformity in data collection and guesstimate statistics based on different sources.

The Census of India_Table 1









Over the past few decades, the Census of India has been recording the number of female births to 1000 male births. From table 1, there is a clear indication of a negative trend in the CSR with a significant drop in the past few decades. Further analysis of the census data reveals state wise CSR and rural vs. urban area CSR. Dr. P Arokiasamy, professor of development studies at Mumbai’s International Institute for Population Studies, who has studied gender differentials in child mortality in India, stated that the ratio of infant mortality rate “...has got progressively worse since the 1970s in India. Higher female mortality from age 1 onwards clearly indicated sustained discrimination.”(7)

According to the latest Census of India 2011, among infants who are less than a year old, boys outnumber girls by about 900,000. But by six years, the difference increases to nearly 7 million. There is also a significant drop in the sex ratio throughout childhood, pubescent and adulthood. The sex ratio of girls to boys in the age group of seven to 15 is 911 girls per 1,000 boys. Furthermore, for the age group of 14-18, the 2011 Census data reflects an additional difference of 7.7 million between the boys’ and girls’ population. (8) These numbers are indicative of the fact that sex selective abortion and female infanticide are a prominent problem in India. What is interesting and troubling to note in the 2011 Census is that rural areas tend to have a better CSR compared to the urban areas. Similarly, the 2001 Census showed that the most literate districts, which would also be those with greatest access to technology, had much worse CSRs than the least literate. (9)

Foeticide and Female Infanticide

The 20th issue (2018) of India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation claims that there are 918 females to 1000 males in the age-group 0-6 years. The primary cause of female infanticide is malnutrition, starvation and lack of access to health facilities for the girl child. One of India’s shocking statistics under female foeticide showed that in 2019, over a six-month period, not a single girl was born in 132 villages in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, according to local authorities. Official data revealed that of the 216 children born in these villages, not even one was female. (10)

According to the Economic Survey 2017-18 mentioned above, there are an estimated 21 million ‘unwanted’ girls who often become victims of female infanticide. (11) In India, the under-five mortality rate is higher among girls than boys, with a 40% higher chance that a girl, more likely than a boy, will die between the ages of 1 and 5. According to the CRY, female infanticide and foeticide has increased over the past few decades. (12) Furthermore, CRY states that 1 out of every 6 girls does not live to see her 15th birthday; every sixth girl child’s death is due to gender discrimination; female mortality exceeds male mortality in 224 of 402 districts in India. Former Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi, said that 2,000 girls are killed every day in the country which she considered “shameful.”

A study published by Lancet in 2018 estimates that the excess female under-5 mortality rate (U5MR) for India’s 35 states and union territories and 640 districts accounts for an estimated 239,000 deaths per year, which would be about 2.4 million over a decade, not including pre-natal deaths. (13)

Maternal Mortality

Another leading cause of femicide is maternal mortality. According to UNICEF’s 2007 report ‘The State of the World’s Children’(14), one in every 43 women is at risk of maternal death in South Asia. The Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994, which outlaws sex determination leading to abortion, and the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which prohibits sexselective abortions, are not being enforced and are instead routinely violated in India. The United Nations states that 50,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth in India.(15) However according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the figure is 71,792.(16) Such discrepancies in statistics are also difficult challenges to overcome.

Another statistic and study that emerged of the past two decades linked the death of 1.8 million girl children directly to domestic violence committed against their mothers. There was a positive correlation between spousal violence against wives and the increased risk of death among female children below the age of five. It is important to note that this increase in spousal violence against the mothers did not have an impact on the mortality rate of boy children below the age of five.(17)

The National Crime Records Bureau

Another government source for VAWG and female homicide data is the annual report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The figures pertaining to number of suicides in 2018 state that though the number of male victims were more than females in all means of suicide except those who committed suicides by ‘Fire/Self-immolation’ where the share of female victims was more (3,809 out of 5,950). The proportion of female victims was higher in ‘Marriage Related Issues’ specifically in ‘Dowry Related Issues’, and ‘Impotency/Infertility’.

In 2014 alone, 8455 dowry deaths were reported by India’s National Crime Records Bureau. Many dowry-related deaths occur via suicide where young women, no longer able to bear the harassment and torture, commit suicide by hanging, ingesting poison, or by fire. Often, femicide is disguised as suicide when the fire is set by her husband or husband’s family, knows as ‘bride burning’. According to a study done by The Lancet from 2000-03, at least 106,000 women were killed by fires in their homes in India in one year. (18) (19) 

In 2018, the NCRB recorded a total of (including all genders) 30,450 murders in India. Out of these, the following table shows the number of deaths which occurred due to VAWG (20):

There were also 93 registered cases under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act. Over the past 10-15 years, the trend that can be observed via the annual report by the NCRB, is that India is a victim of 3 female homicides per year per 100,000 female population of which one in three female homicides is directly related to dowry deaths. (21) The NCRB statistics from the years 2009-2014 report a significant increase of 65.8% in crimes against women in India.

Table 2





Government and Other Initiatives

The first law enacted to counter femicide is section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which states that the woman’s husband or relative of the husband subjecting her to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to a fine. Two laws deal with pre-natal sex determination and abortion: the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, and the Pre Natal Diagnostic Act, 1994, which was amended as the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (PCPNDT) Act in 2002. In 2005, the Domestic Violence Act was enacted. Also, in 2005, the ‘Janani Suraksha Yojana’ (Mother’s Protection Programme) was launched by the government to reduce maternal and infant mortality by promoting institutional delivery. In 2009, an initiative called the Nanda Devi Girl Child Scheme was implemented and directed towards families living below the poverty line in India’s northern state of Uttarakhand. (22) The National Plan of Action exclusively for the girl child (1991-2000) was formulated in 1992 for the “Survival, Protection and Development of the Girl Children”. (23) 

One of the most important programmes launched in 2015 was ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padao’ (Save the Girl, Educate the Girl). The aim of this scheme is to specifically improve the CSR in 100 districts. Another objective is to prevent gender selective elimination through targeted intervention focusing on implementation of all existing laws. Along with this, the Sukanya Samridhi Yojna (Girl Child Prosperity) scheme was also launched in 2015, according to which girl children below 10 years will have bank accounts with more interest and income tax benefits.

There have been numerous government initiatives and schemes as well as campaigns and proactive actions taken by NGOs and other human rights organizations. However, as long as there exists a lack of reliable data on femicide, there will be a gap in understanding the effectiveness of such initiatives. The need of the hour is a dedicated study of the change in female demography and how it is linked to femicide and VAWG.

To tackle some of these problems, the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign plans to implement important tools such as establishing public boards that note the CSR of every neighbourhood, on a monthly basis, thereby forcing members of communities to be watchful of and accountable to each other. These particularly must be set up in urban, middle- and upper-class areas in coordination with police and legal cells for effective action. Another task of the campaign must be the compulsory registration of all births and deaths of girl children. (24)

One such project is GENDER (Gender Equity and Demography Research) Project, a collaborative research initiative between the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) in Mumbai and the UCSD Center on Gender Equity and Health (GEH) in San Diego and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In its official description, this initiative is said to be designed to apply advanced statistical and data science methodologies to gender data with the goal of guiding understanding of gender inequities in health and development and informing potential solutions to address those inequities. (25) The researchers use the National Family Health Survey, as well as other nationally and sub-nationally representative data in India. The latest research paper available by GENDER is on reproductive, maternal and child health services in India and Adolescent Sexual Violence in India. (26) 

Despite the availability of generalized data by the Census of India, the NCRB and the NFHS and other sources mentioned in this report, there is a lack of cohesiveness required to get a clear picture of the current situation of femicide in India. This underlines the need for a more specific structure aimed at gathering relevant data concerning femicide. The role of a dedicated femicide and VAWG observatory thus becomes crucial not only to gather data independently but also to reconcile data obtained from different sources in a systematic manner. By providing more accurate and well-analyzed data, such an observatory has the potential to become an important tool to help the government, policymakers and civil society in fighting femicide effectively.


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