More girls were born in Delhi than boys last year for the first time, according to official figures, after parents were given cash bonuses of £125 for each new daughter as part of a drive to stamp out female infanticide.
Government officials cited the statistics as evidence that India is finally winning its war against the killing of unborn and baby girls, a practice estimated to account for as many as 50 million Indian women having gone “missing”, according to Unicef.
However, experts said that the improvement in Delhi was too sudden to be credible, and was likely to be the result of more families registering daughters to claim the cash benefits, rather than a genuine rise in the numbers of girls being born.
In the Indian capital, 1,004 girls were born for every 1,000 boys in 2008, according to the Chief Registrar, Births and Deaths.
The figures showed a startling jump in the ratio of girls to boys in a region that has had one of the worst records for female infanticide in the subcontinent.
In the period from 2005 to 2007, only 871 girls had been born in Delhi per 1,000 boys, according to the Registrar General.
Nesim Tumkaya, of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) said he wished the latest figures were true, but that data that showed more females than males being born defied the rules of nature – which dictate the reverse. “The figures are impossible,” he said.
Demographers consider the “natural” ratio at birth to be about 960 females per 1,000 males. Across all of India from 2005 to 2007, there were only about 900.
The skewed sex ration is the product of millions of illegal abortions of female foetuses and of the widespread murder of baby girls, experts say. Abortions are most common among rich couples who can afford ultrasound scans to illegally check their unborn baby’s sex, according to research by the UNPF.
Girls are prejudiced against largely because of the dowry system and inheritance practices tilted in favour of men. Illegal ultrasound sex tests are often advertised with catchphrases such as “spend 600 rupees now and save 50,000 rupees later”.
As part of its anti-infanticide drive, the Delhi Government deposits 5,000 rupees (£125) in the name of a girl at the time of her birth and as much as 25,000 more through the course of her childhood as long as she stays in school. The money can be used to pay for further education or for wedding expenses.
Baby may have been tossed into river