Female foeticide: Death before birth

By Preeti Panwar | Last Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 13:19

Preeti Panwar

It has been six long decades since India gained independence but many Indians are still trapped in age-old traditional beliefs. Here, ‘old beliefs’ imply the mindset of people who still find themselves in the trap of girl-boy inequality. The ‘liberal’ Indian society has failed to transform the other orthodox India. No doubt India is advancing at a fast pace in the field of science and technology, and also in aping of the western culture, but if we look at the grass root level, the picture is not so rosy; it is rather a dark, especially when it comes to how we treat the fairer sex.

The status of females in India aptly symbolizes India’s status of being a developing nation – miles away from becoming a developed state. Of course, India deserves to be in this list because here, in this 21st century, the girl child continues to be murdered before she is born. Female foeticide is still prevalent in the Indian society, in fact, it has been a practice for hundreds of years.

Narrow-minded people do not mind murdering their unborn daughters for the fear of giving huge amounts of dowry at the time of her marriage. Such people, whenever they discover they are going to have a girl child (through illegal sex selection tests), get the foetus aborted. Else they would continue to reproduce till they get a male heir. When price rise is already taking a toll on the standard of living, is it necessary to go in for more than two children irrespective of their gender?

Many families put pressure on women to give birth to boy so that he can take family’s name forward, light the funeral pyre and be the bread earner of the family. But these days, are girls less competent than boys? Just look at the results of Board exams or any other competitive exams, girls mostly outshine boys. Women empowerment has led to inundation of females excelling in the corporate world, engineering and medical professions.

Sadly, there have been numerous incidents of the foetus being found lying in farms, floating in rivers, wrapped up in jute bags etc. India’s major social problem is the intentional killing of the girl child. The struggle for a girl child starts the day her existence is known in her mother’s womb. The fear and struggle to survive swallow most of the girl’s life even if she is ‘allowed’ to live in this cruel world.

In India, the girl child is considered a burden as huge amounts of money, gold and other items need to be given in the form of dowry when she gets married. Dowry is not the only reason for poor couple to abort their girl child. The ages old traditions, customs and beliefs of the Indian society are largely responsible for creating a negative mindset among the couples. More shocking is the fact that the sinful crime of female foeticide is not only common in rural areas where social discrimination against women, lack of proper education etc. can be considered as reasons behind carrying out such acts, but also the ultra modern, so-called ‘educated’ people living in urban areas and metropolitan cities who are a step ahead in killing the girl child in the womb.

The truth behind this crime has been brought into light several times by the print and electronic media. But, it has failed to melt the hearts and minds of those who remain unaffected by the consequences of the grave sin they are committing.

The matter was discussed in length and breadth in the inaugural episode of the show ‘Satyamave Jayate’ anchored by Bollywood actor Aamir Khan. The show has once again ignited the spirited discussion on the female foeticide in the country. That episode had mothers from different parts of rural and urban India talking about the pressure and the problems they faced for delivering a girl child. Although the show is doing really well and has already garnered positive reviews from the audiences, we will have to wait and see whether the impact will remain even after the programme stops beaming into our drawing rooms every Sunday. The emotional connect which the show has successfully created should be strong enough to stop the killing of the girl child before being born.

If we look at the figures of sex ratio in India, according to the 2011 Census, the number of girls stands at 940 which is a marginal increase from 933 in 2001. Not surprisingly, Haryana has the lowest sex ratio among the states while Kerala remains at the top with the highest sex ratio. In the national capital Delhi, the statistics stand at 821 girls against 1000 boys in 2001 compared to 866 in 2011.

According to the statistics, nearly 10 million female foetuses have been aborted in the country over the past two decades. Of the 12 million girls born in India, one million do not see their first birthdays.

As a result, human trafficking has become common in various states of India where teenage girls are being sold for cheap money by poor families. The girls are treated as sex objects and more than half of such cases go unreported.

The United Nations’ World Population Fund indicated that India has one of the highest sex imbalances in the world. Not surprisingly, demographers warn that there will be a shortage of brides in the next 20 years because of the adverse juvenile sex ratio, combined with an overall decline in fertility.

With the advent of technology, ultrasound techniques gained widespread use in India during the 1990s. It resulted in the foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion by medical professionals. Recently, incidences of female foeticide were reported from Beed district in Maharashtra where women used to come to a doctor’s clinic to get their female child aborted for Rs 2000. Just think for a moment about the doctor’s connivance in this illegal act. Doctors, whose aim is to save the lives of people, happily kill the foetus for a meagre two thousand bucks! And more heart wrenching is the fact that the aborted foetuses were very often fed to dogs.

The above mentioned case is not the only one of such heart wrenching heinous crimes. There are thousands of such clinics where illegal activities are carried out on a daily basis and in some cases, in connivance with politicians and police men.

The life transition from a female foetus to a school going girl to a caring woman is never an easy task for the fairer sex. She has to face challenges at every step of her life. Daily, there is news related to rape, sexual harassment, molestation, verbal abuse, torture, exploitation. She has to fight against gender indiscrimination, inequality, and hundreds of social norms are tagged with her the day she puts her steps outside her home.

In most of the cases, women abort their female child involuntarily when they succumb to family pressures. The in-laws’ illogical demand/ desire for a boy preference makes the life of women hell. Sometimes, she is left by her husband if she is unable to give birth to a child and worse happens when she conceives a girl child.

Ironically, it all happens in a country where the girl is seen as an incarnation of Goddess ‘Laxmi’. True, many families are out of bounds in joy when a girl child is born in their family. They think she will bring luck, harmony, happiness and peace in their family. They even touch her feet to seek her blessings. Many childless couples even adopt a girl child irrespective of the worries of her future (mainly marriage).

In such a grim scenario, it’s really difficult to digest the harsh reality of the differences between a boy and a girl. India has a deeply rooted patriarchal attitude to which even the doctors and the women, who in spite of being the victims, unthinkingly subscribe. There is an urgent need of undoing the historical and traditional wrongs of a gendered society; only then the hope of abolition of female infanticide and boy preference can positively adjust the figures in favour of the girl child in future. The skewed sex ratio has to find a balance in order to maintain the progress of the country.



First Published: Friday, June 29, 2012 - 18:17

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