NEW DELHI: India, which had the ignominious reputation of being the only country in the world where a larger proportion of girls below the age of one died than boys, finally saw its male and female infant mortality rate (IMR) equalise in 2020. In 16 states, IMR remained higher for female babies than males, but the gap had reduced since 2011.
Infant mortality rate is the number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births.
In rural India, though the gap had reduced, female IMR remained marginally higher than male IMR. However, in urban India, where the gap between male and female IMR was higher in 2011, the female IMR fell below that of males by 2020.
In 2011, all states had higher IMR for female babies than males, except Uttarakhand, where the two rates were equal. But the SRS Statistical Report 2020 showed that in five states and the national capital territory, the IMR was the same for baby girls and boys and in eight states, the IMR for females was lower.
Chhattisgarh had the highest gap in 2020, with a male IMR of 35 compared to female IMR of 41. Though overall IMR in Chhattisgarh fell from 48 to 38, it is one of the few states where the gap between male and female IMR increased between 2011 and 2020. Other states which saw a marginal increase in the gap included Bihar, Assam and Karnataka.
In all states, the rural IMR was higher than in urban areas. But the gap between male and female IMR was greater in urban areas in many states including Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra and Haryana in 2011. By 2020, this trend was reversed in most of these states.
UN data for 2020 shows that among countries where the IMR was above 20, India was the only one where male and female IMR were almost the same. In every other case, male IMR was higher than female IMR by at least 2 years. The only other countries where the gap between male and female IMRs was one or less were those where infant mortality has been reduced to single-digit levels.