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Declining Sex Ratios, Marriage Squeeze and Bride Trafficking in India

 India’s history of son preference is not a novel issue to discuss. The generations have witnessed a craving for son and a burdensome feeling for the birth of a girl. The numbers are enough to speak and support the Indian’s love for a male child. The overall sex ratio of India has bene continuously declining from 1901 (972) to the present year of 2011 (940). 

Similarly, child sex ratio has also declined from 972 in 1901 to 919 in 2011. The states of Haryana and Punjab are the worse in whole country with the lowest sex ratios throughout the decades (Figures given at the end). The figures gleamingly picturize the missing females from the country. In many smaller areas within Punjab and Haryana extremely skewed sex ratios have been registered in the range of 600-700 females per 1000 males. Over the years, the non-interest in the girl child has grown prominent and glaring. The unwontedness and neglect of a girl child has always remained in India, only the methods have changed. Initially it was female infanticide now it is sonography detection for a female fetus and then aborting it. 

In some recent studies, it is reported that there is an increase in abortion of female fetuses. The Indian society is leading towards masculization with a future towards fewer females. Coale estimated that there are around 23 million missing women in India. Amartya Sen translated the skewed sex ratios into absolute numbers by calculating the number of extra women who would have been alive if these countries have had the balanced sex ratio. Due to continuous decline of sex ratio in past few decades; there is a shortage of females in the marriageable ages which is also called as male marriage squeeze. It means the potential number of brides does not approximately equal the number of potential grooms. Thus, the men will face a marriage squeeze, since they would nave have enough number of women to marry. In simpler terms, it can be explained as: Suppose there are 100 men of marriageable age but only 70 women are available for them. Thus, the rest 30 men would have to find some means to find a girl to marry. Marriage squeeze will leave large number of males in India unmarried, specially in north-western regions. In Indian scenario, where marriage is almost universal and unmarried persons are looked down upon with no status and respect in the society; there will be changes in marriage practices and patterns. Men will tend to look for newer methods and ways to get married and find brides. 

Bride Trafficking as one of the strategy to address bride shortage
There are several strategies to address bride shortage like delayed marriage, celibacy, relaxation of caste and gotra exogamy etc. But one of the strategy to address this bride shortage scenario is through bride trafficking for marriage into areas of bride shortage. As per current NCRB 2016 data, out of 23,117 trafficked persons around 21 percent of women are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Around 2 percent of women are trafficked for forced marriages. The figures reported in NCRB are quite low, because once a trafficked bride settles down into marriage, she barely reports as a trafficked victim or a forced marriage.
In many states who are facing the bride shortage are resorting to find brides from long distance regions which are far from their region and totally different than their culture, language, tradition and rituals. Example, a man from Haryana is getting a bride from West Bengal. A Haryanvi man is marrying an Assamese woman. A high caste groom is accepting a lower caste bride. The dynamics of caste and gotra exogamy are shaking. The only thing which matters to those unmarried men is getting married somehow. There is demand for brides and the grooms are ready to pay for the same. The economics of demand and supply is applied to the marriage and buying brides becomes one of the resort of people who are incapable to find a bride locally in their region. The process of bride trafficking is complex.
 It includes a lot of people from groom side, brokers, traffickers, bride side parents or relatives etc. In many cases a trafficked bride is an innocent who is duped in the name of marriage. Some of them are sold by their parents or some relatives for few thousands. In some cases, girls from their villages are kidnapped and sold off directly through a human trafficking racket. Whatever be the case, bride trafficking is a gross human right violation and needs our immediate attention. The state and government needs to intervene and save the innocent girls from these illegal and forced-duped marriages.

Enu Anand  Doctoral Fellow, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai.