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Salem shedding notoriety for infanticide

By R. Ilangovan

SALEM May 7. The `Salem Initiative,' adopted by the Government to tackle female infanticide, for which this district is notorious, has started throwing up positive signals.

The mortality rate for female infants in the district, which stood at 103 per 1000 live births in 2000, came down to 65 in 2001 and stood at a healthier 42 in 2002. The district has identified 12 blocks out of 20 as `danger zones', where the female IMR (infant mortality rate) stood at an alarming 100 per 1000 in 1999 — a figure considered `very high' in the State.

But sustained efforts by the Government and the pro-active role played by the district administration during the past two years brought the IMR for female infants to just one in 2001 and nil in 2002, in some of the blocks, according to official figures. The overall IMR for the district also showed a steady decline from 70 per 1000 in 1999 to 34 in 2002. The State average is 51 per 1000 as of 2001.

Salem district presented a gloomy picture till a few years ago. For example, till as late as 1999, the Nangavalli block showed a dismal male to female IMR ratio of 1:6.1, denoting that for every male infant death, there were 6 female infant deaths. But this figure has now come down to 1:2.47. The overall ratio in the district was a poor 1:2.9. But it has now come down to a healthy 1:1.55. The Nangavalli block has also been placed in the pink bracket, it having registered a healthy male to female IMR ratio of 2:0.47.

The girl child ratio (0-6 years) in the State was 939 per 1000 in 2001, while it is alarming in the districts of Salem (826), Dharmapuri (877) and Theni (893).

But what has cheered many women activists is the bold and positive move by the Salem district administration in having come out with inputs on female infant mortality. Not many districts have furnished sex-wise IMR break-up figures. In fact, social scientists have been asking the Government to include sex ratio at birth and the gender differential as health indicators in its policy documents.

An activist, who works in Salem, Madurai, Dharmapuri, Namakkal and Theni districts, where the incidence of infanticide is being recorded and closely monitored, says that even in Andipatti (Theni), the availability of statistics on the mortality rate for female infants is grossly inadequate. But again what has disturbed the women activists is the Salem administration's reluctance to come out with a detailed report on the sex ratio at birth, which could expose the prevalence of female foeticide. They also insist that a total registration of births be done.

The Collector, J. Radhakrishnan, however, is quick to point out that the administration will soon initiate a concerted effort at collecting details of both the sex ratio at birth and gender differential. "We are closely monitoring scan centres. Awareness camps are being conducted not only for village health nurses and `anganwadi' workers but also for doctors,'' he says.

The Government has sanctioned Rs. 50 lakhs to conduct awareness campaigns on the evils of female infanticide in Salem, Dharmapuri, Theni, Erode, Madurai and Namakkal districts. There will be a coordinated exercise by various government agencies to spread the message.

Meanwhile, even as this district inches towards the elusive objective of gender equalisation, the unusually large number of scan centres is causing concern to social activists and non-governmental organisations.

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