Women are murdered all over the world. But in India a most brutal form of killing females takes place regularly, even before they have the opportunity to be born.
Female feticide–the selective abortion of female fetuses–is killing upwards of one million females in India annually with far-ranging and tragic consequences. In some areas, the sex ratio of females to males has dropped to less than 8000:1000. Females not only face inequality in this culture, they are even denied the right to be born. Why do so many families selectively abort baby daughters? In a word: economics. Aborting female fetuses is both practical and socially acceptable in India. Female feticide is driven by many factors, but primarily by the prospect of having to pay a dowry to the future bridegroom of a daughter. While sons offer security to their families in old age and can perform the rites for the souls of deceased parents and ancestors, daughters are perceived as a social and economic burden. Prenatal sex detection technologies have been misused, allowing the selective abortions of female offspring to proliferate. Legally, however, female feticide is a penal offence. Although female infanticide has long been committed in India, feticide is a relatively new practice, emerging concurrently with the advent of technological advancements in prenatal sex determination on a large scale in the 1990s. While abortion is legal in India, it is a crime to abort a pregnancy solely because the fetus is female. Strict laws and penalties are in place for violators. These laws, however, have not stemmed the tide of this abhorrent practice. This article will discuss the socio-legal conundrum female feticide presents, as well as the consequences of having too few women in Indian society.
WHAT IS FEMALE FOETICIDE?
The act of aborting or terminating a foetus while it’s still in the womb, because it is female, is known as female foeticide. This can be done after determining the sex of the child before it’s born, through ultrasound scans.
Although, sex determination in India is illegal, the practice is rampant and has become a multi-million dollar industry. Coupled with prospective parents desperate for a boy child, and physicians who are carrying out these abortions, female foeticide has become a shameful and shocking reality of our nation.
WHAT IS THE MAIN CAUSE OF FEMALE FOETICIDE?
For centuries, families across many parts of India have regarded a male child as the preferred of the two sexes. There have been many social, financial, emotional and religious reasons for this preference and while times have changed, many of these reasons and beliefs continue to remain.
Today, some of the key reasons that exist for the preference of a male child are as follows:
- The tradition of paying dowry at the time of a daughter’s marriage is alive and kicking. This amount can be so huge that many parents will go to extreme lengths to avoid having a daughter in the first place.
- A son is seen as someone who can earn and care for his parents in their later years, while a daughter will get married and go away.
- A son can carry on the family name, while a daughter becomes part of her husband’s family.
- Girls are seen as consumers, whereas boys are seen as producers.
- Many families consider it a status symbol to have a son, and a point of shame to have a daughter.
- Often, the pressure to bear a male child on the woman is so great that she herself might choose to get sex determination done and abort the baby if it’s a girl.
- Illiteracy, poverty and the tag of ‘burden’ that is assigned to a girl child, makes the desire for a male child even stronger.
Modern technology has made it very easy to determine the sex of the child while it’s still in the womb, giving parents-to-be the option of aborting the foetus and continuing to try to conceive till they get a male child.
While sex determination has been banned by the Indian government, it does not stop families from going to great lengths to find out anyway. Not only are there plenty of scanning centres that reveal this information, many of the wealthier families fly the pregnant mother to neighbouring countries where sex determination is legal, to find out the gender of the baby.
Once the gender of the baby is known, families that are keen to have a baby boy choose to abort the female foetus. The law on aborting is also strict, and the Indian government allows it only under certain circumstances.
Therefore, by determining the sex of the baby and aborting it because it’s a girl, the parents as well as the participating physicians are breaking two major laws.
STOP FEMALE FOETICIDE – SAVE THE GIRL CHILD
spite of over six decades of Independence, in spite of India making rapid progress in science, technology and other fields, the picture that we see of India as of now is not one that can be appreciated, especially in terms of its treatment to the fairer sex. Discrimination against girl children, parents’ neglect of the girl child, illegal abortions and female infanticide are clear instances of this. The practice of female foeticide, which is illegal, is still prevalent in our country. There is one section of the Indian society which is trying its level best to be liberal in their thoughts, although aping the Western culture. On the other hand, there is another section of the society, in fact a large chunk of it, which is still in the clutches of orthodox views and thoughts.
Female foeticide is one such grave social problem arising out of the so-called “traditional thoughts” of our society. Illegal abortion of the female foetus is done due to family pressure from in-laws, husband or the woman’s parents, and the reasons for this are preference of son, girls being considered as a burden, poverty, illiteracy, social discrimination against women etc.
CONSEQUENCES OF FEMALE FOETICIDE IN INDIA
Female foeticide has a serious impact on the society, in the overall growth and development of the country. Let us discuss below the effects of female foeticide in India:
Skewed sex ratio: According to 2011 census, the child sex ratio in India was 919 females to 1000 males, which declined from 927 females to 1000 males in the previous decade. Haryana, which is supposed to be one of the richest states in India, takes the top most position in skewed sex ratio. Other prominent states are Punjab, Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh etc. Skewed sex ratios are seen in almost all the states of India, except in North East India and some of South India. Since 1991, more than 80% of districts in India have shown a reducing sex ratio. Going by this, the next census by 2022 will definitely show a further reduction in sex ratios all over the country. It is horrifying to state that illegal foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion have developed into a Rs. 1000 crore industry in India.
Killing a girl child before or after she is born has an adverse effect on the sex ratio and leads to further social evils. Skewed sex ratio, which is the result of female foeticide, has other negative consequences in the society.
SHORTAGE OF GIRLS FOR MARRIAGE:
In a recent report by the Red Cross Society, there are a large number of bachelors who have crossed the marriageable age in Punjab and Haryana because of shortage of girls.
Eligible Jat boys from Haryana are seeking brides from areas which are far away from their home town, like Kerala, to change their “single” status to “married”.
These are just a few instances. With fewer women, it is interesting to notice the “Indian marriage market”. Men are willing to pay a large amount of money to get married to a girl from other states like Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, or Madhya Pradesh. The outcome is that while the parents of the girls benefit, the girls themselves have to compromise their culture, dress, language and food habits.
A LAW WITH MORE TEETH
In 2013, the Supreme Court ordered all states to effectively implement the law against sex selection
In 1994, the Parliament enacted the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act or PCPNDT Act to stop female foeticide and arrest the declining sex ratio at birth in India. The main purpose of the Act is to ban sex selection before and after conception and to prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex-selective abortion.
The Act, however, has not been properly implemented across many states as is evidenced by the low sex ratio at birth in the country.
To demand effective implementation of the PCPNDT Act, the NGO Voluntary Health Association of Punjab filed a writ petition before the Union Government. In response the Supreme Court in 2013 passed an order giving the Act more teeth.
AS PER THE COURT’S ORDERS:
- All courts must dispose cases filed under the Act within 6 months.
- State governments must set up a special cell to monitor the progress of the cases filed under the Act.
- State governments must map all registered and unregistered ultra-sonography centres within 3 months.
- State and district advisory boards must ensure that manufacturers and sellers of ultra-sonography machines do not sell the machines to any unregistered centres.
- All genetic clinics and laboratories must maintain statutory records and forms. Action will be taken against them if they fail to do so.
- Central and state supervisory boards must meet every 6 months to oversee effective implementation of the Act.
- They must gather information on breach of the Act and initiate legal proceedings.
- The state advisory committees and district advisory committees must report details of the charges framed and the convictions given under the Act to the state medical councils so that they may take appropriate action.
- The authorities should take steps to seize the machines which have been used illegally and contrary to the provisions of the Act and its rules. These seized machines can also be confiscated under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and be sold in accordance with law.