Low female birth rate poses gender imbalance challenges in Nepal

Published On: June 22, 2024 11:40 AM NPT By: Ruby Rauniyar

KATHMANDU, June 22: The population of daughters has been decreasing in Nepal, leading to a significant gender imbalance in recent years. This trend, if it continues, is likely to cause difficulties in various sectors including marriages in the coming decades.

Previously, Nepalis heard about gender imbalance issues in India and China, but now they may face the same problem themselves. In patriarchal societies like Nepal, there is a strong preference for sons, and the National Census Report 2021 shows a declining birth rate for girls.

The report states that the fertility rate in Nepal is 0.73 daughters per woman of reproductive age (15-49 years). In Karnali province, 100 women give birth to 96 daughters, while in Bagmati and Gandaki provinces, this number is 59. 

In Madhesh and Sudurpaschim provinces, the rate is 0.84, with 84 daughters born per 100 women. In Lumbini and Koshi provinces, the rates are 74 and 70 daughters per 100 women, respectively, indicating a declining trend.

Demographers warn that a continued decrease in the birth rate of girls is likely to lead to major problems. Dhundhiraj Lamichhane, director of the National Statistics Office, noted that since girls are the ones who give birth, a lower birth rate among girls will reduce the overall fertility rate, impacting society and the economy as a whole.

The current total fertility rate in Nepal is 1.94, which is already below the replacement level. The sex ratio of live births has been increasing, with 112 boys born for every 100 girls in 2021, up from 104 in 2001 and 106 in 2011. 

The 2021 census shows significant gender imbalances in younger age groups, with 141,767 fewer girls than boys in the 0-4 age group, 120,383 fewer in the 5-9 age group, and 82,043 fewer in the 10-14 age group.

The sex ratio of live births is 112, according to the 2021 census, meaning 112 sons are born for every 100 daughters. This gap is increasing over time. The sex ratio per 100 live births was 104 in 2058 and 106 in 2068. In all age groups, the number of girls is consistently lower than boys.

According to the 2021 census, there are 141,767 fewer girls than boys in the 0-4 age group. Similarly, in the 5-9 age group, there are 120,383 fewer girls. This gap persists in the 10-14 age group, with 82,043 fewer girls than boys.

Prof Yogendra Gurung, head of the Central Department of Population Studies, Tribhuvan University, predicts that it will be increasingly difficult to find daughters for marriage in the next decade and a half. He also estimates that schools and colleges may have to merge or close as the overall population declines along with the number of daughters.

Gurung's analysis suggests that boys in the current 0-4 age group will struggle to find girls to marry in about 15 years. For the 5-9 age group, this issue will arise in the next 11 years, and for the 10-14 age group, it will be a problem within six years.

Gurung notes that a low number of daughters in Madhesh might reduce the dowry system since there is already a shortage of girls in that region. He explains that, with modernization, people have become more infatuated with having sons, leading to fewer daughters being born, which causes social problems. Gurung emphasizes that the state should change its population policy.

Associate Professor of Population Studies, Bhesh Nath Sapkota notes that census data indicates a shortage of girls for marriage in the coming years. He attributes the decreased birth rate of girls to the increased trend of gender recognition in the womb and the tendency to abort female fetuses.

Sapkota explains that fewer daughters being born leads to a decreasing population due to a lower fertility rate. He warns that this will have significant economic and social impacts and suggests that the government should adopt a management policy rather than population control.

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