Indian Gender Disparity and Female Foeticide


India has the maximum number of women dying in the Asia-Pacific region because of discriminatory treatment in access to health and nutrition and sex-selective abortion, according to a report prepared by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that reveals shocking levels of gender disparity in the country.

In 2007, the latest year for which figures were available, 42.7 million women died due to this reason.

The report, released on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, pointed out that “Asia has the highest male-female sex ratio at birth in the world, with sex-selective abortion and infanticide leaving approximately 96 million missing women” in seven countries. In 2007, an estimated 42.6 million women died in China, while the figure was 6.1 million in Pakistan.

UNDP said “missing women” meant those who have died as a result of discriminatory treatment in access to health and nutrition or through pure neglect or because they were never born in the first place. India also has the lowest percentage of female population after Bhutan in the Asia-Pacific region despite a better sex-ratio at birth, the report said.

According to the report “Power, Voice and Rights”, India also has a large number of cases of women being married off early. Only Nepal and Bangladesh have reported more such cases than India. The mean age at marriage in India is 20 for women and 25 for men, it said.

There is also a wide disparity between male and female child mortality rates in India. While on an average 72 out of 1,000 male children under the age of five died in 2006, it was 81 in the case of female children. The report said women suffer from some of the world’s lowest rates of political representation, employment and property ownership in the Asia-Pacific region.

The report showed that India has 0.3 per cent of its people in the age group of 15-49 vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The corresponding figure for Pakistan is 0.1 and Bangladesh 0.5.

While Asia and the Pacific can take pride in the region’s vibrant economic transformation in recent decades, this has not translated into progress on gender equality.

Discrimination and neglect are threatening women’s very survival in the Asia-Pacific region, where women suffer from some of the world’s lowest rates of political representation, employment and property ownership. Their lack of participation is also depressing economic growth.

It is the women who promote female foeticide despite concerns over the declining sex ratio in most of the states in India, said Prema Kariyapa, Chairperson, Central Social Welfare Board, (CSWB) New Delhi. Addressing a gathering on campaign against female foeticide here today, Kariyapa said, “In the past women had no awareness and education nor was there a stringent legal support. But in the present world despite having all the facilities women do not have the courage to fight inhuman crime like female foeticide”. They rather give their silent consent to kill a girl foetus, she added. A statewide campaign against female foeticide was organised for the first time by Society for Weeker Community, an NGO.

Despite the existence of laws that ban tests to determine the sex of an unborn child, the destruction of female foetuses is common in some parts of India where the preference for sons runs deep. Despite a law banning sex selective abortion (The PCPNDT Act) prohibits sex selection by any means, before or after conception. However, female foeticide goes on unabated in modern India. Portable machines are taken to remote villages by motorcycle. As a consequence, infanticide has given way to foeticide.

The United Nations says that an estimated 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India. This has led to skewed sex ratios in states like Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and New Delhi. The 2001 census shows there are less than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys. As per a government statistics around 10 million girls have been killed by their parents-either before or immediately after their births-over the past 20 years.

Sex ratio in India is getting more and more disproportionate over the years. Unfortunately the educated and the elite still seem to consider their male child a status symbol, and thereby partake in creating an imbalance in the male-female sex ratio.

Reasons for selective abortions are many, from carrying the family name forward, lighting the funeral pyre to hoping for a male breadwinner in the family. But the reason, which tops the list, is dowry – a price paid by the parents to marry off their daughters. Dowry though illegal in India, but the law is almost universally ignored. For poor and middle class families it is a burden, which they are forced to bear.

According to Dr Nita Mathur, Reader, School of Social Sciences, IGNOU, India is a patriarchal society where there is preference for boys as they are considered a status symbol of the family. Another reason is that, a would be mother would like to have a kind of social security for her daughter, which is as good as non-existent in our country and due to that she prefers to go for abortion.

Gita Aravamudan’s book on ‘Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide’ presents a chilling and in-depth account of the growing practice of female foeticide in the country. The author has collected accounts of foeticide and infanticide from across the country. A midwife from a remote village in Tamil Nadu narrates how the practice has moved on from feeding paddy husk and poisoned milk to stifling the newborn with a cloth or a pillow. She also states, though India has a history of skewed female sex ratio, what the country is witnessing today is the systematic extermination of the female child, with the ultrasound machine serving as an instrument of murder.

Yes, Female Foeticide is wrong. You force Indians to have a girl child. Fine, then what?

The family is upset as they have to have a girl. They make her feel ashamed, worthless and inferior. They pamper the sons and curse the daughters. Make them live, eat, sleep and work like servants; no proper food or clothing; no education; no entertainment for them; no love but curses and beatings and bemoan their fate to have daughters. They marry them off to old grooms for money as can not afford dowry. If raped or molested or widowed or bare (infertile) or can not give birth to male child: They are ostracized, not welcome and thrown out to face lives on their own. You could go on. Media is full of these stories of female discrimination in domestic and work places.

Hence, the BIG QUESTION IS “We may be able to force the Indians to have a female child. But, can  we force them to look after her or give her a life of dignity instead of one filled with shame and inferiority complex?”


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