India has one of the worst gender differentials in child mortality of any country, ranking 132 out of 148 nations according to the latest United Nations Gender Equality Index. This score is worse than Pakistan and Bangladesh, countries often associated with pervasive gender inequality.
Preference towards sons is the main cause of the differentials in child mortality. Boys are preferred for various reasons, all of which can be changed at the political level.
For instance, in many states only men are legally permitted to inherit land. Daughters and widows are excluded from inheriting family owned land. With the desire to continue the family name and keep the inheritance in the family, men are permitted to marry a second wife if the first does not produce a male baby. Moreover, many girls die of preventable diseases as the health of their brothers is made priority. Many families view the dowry for marriage as a major financial burden that they would rather do without.
Laws protecting girls have, however, been established. These laws criminalize marital rape and so-called “honor killings” while also banning child marriage, prenatal sex selection tests and dowries. Nonetheless, a study by the U.N. World Population Fund (UNFPA) found that these laws are poorly enforced.
Due to the lack of enforcement of these protective laws, the number of girls under six years old has fallen for the past 50 years. There are now 919 girls to every 1,000 boys. This is largely due to illegal prenatal sex selection, resulting in abortion of female babies.
In the last three decades, twelve million Indian girls have been aborted.
Mitu Khurana, a 36-year-old doctor, experienced the realities of male preference when she became pregnant with twin girls. She was ignored, deprived of food, verbally and physically abused and pressured to abort her babies by her husband and in-laws, all of this because the babies were girls.
Khurana states her husband and his family tricked her into having the illegal prenatal scan to determine the gender of the babies. The mentioned family members encouraged Khurana to have an abortion stating she would not want a third child due to being a professional woman, and it would be difficult to pay for the girls dowry to get them married. Khurana decided to leave her husband and give birth to her daughters, whom she loves tremendously.
Given her experience, Khurana decided to bring a criminal case against her husband, his mother and brother. As the case is ultimately about gender equality, it holds much national importance.
Ultimately, protective laws like India’s Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, which bans prenatal sex determination, need to be upheld in efforts of ensuring gender equality practices in India.
– Caressa Kruth