Female foeticide in India
Female foeticide is the act of aborting a foetus because it is female. This is a major social problem in India and has cultural connections with the dowry system that is ingrained in Indian culture, despite the fact that it has been prohibited since 1961, under The Dowry Prohibition Act. In India a strong preference for sons over daughters exists. People realise smaller family sizes with relatively greater number of sons through the use of medical technologies. Pregnancies are planned by resorting to 'differential contraception' — contraception is used based on the number of surviving sons irrespective of family size. Following conception, foetal sex is determined by prenatal diagnostic techniques after which female foetuses are aborted. Foetal sex determination and sex-selective abortion by medical professionals has grown into a 1,000 crore industry (US$244 million). Social discrimination against women and a preference for sons have been promoted. Since 1991, 80% of districts in India have recorded an increasingly masculine sex ratio with the state of Punjab having the most masculine sex ratio. According to the decennial Indian census, the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group in India went from 104.0 males per 100 females in 1981, to 105.8 in 1991, to 107.8 in 2001, to 109.4 in 2011. The ratio is significantly higher in certain states such as Punjab and Haryana (126.1 and 122.0, as of 2001).
Magnitude of problem
It is estimated that more than 10 million female foetuses have been illegally aborted in India. Researchers for the Lancet journal based in Canada and India stated that 500,000 girls were being lost annually through sex-selective abortions.
Pre-natal sex-determination was banned in India in 1994, under the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act. The act aims to prevent sex-selective abortion, which, according to the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, "has its roots in India’s long history of strong patriarchal influence in all spheres of life."
It is most prominent in Gujarat and the North Indian states, which according to census data have an alarmingly low ratio of female children. Certain castes regularly practiced female infanticide and later female foeticide. The castes with a much lower proportion of female children to male children included lewa patidars and the rajputs in Gujarat; jats, rajputs, khutris and royal Brahmins in undivided Punjab, rajputs and gujars in the Uttar Pradesh.
This process began in the early 1990s when ultrasound techniques gained widespread use in India. There was a tendency for families to continuously produce children until a male child was born. This was primarily due to the large sexist culture that exists in India against women. This is reflected by literacy rates among women as well as economic participation, which are both particularly low in states where female foeticide is prominent and an unequal population ratio exists alongside. The government initially supported the practice to control population growth. The Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act was passed in 1994, making sex-selective abortion illegal. It was then modified in 2003 holding medical professionals legally responsible. However, the PCPNDT Act has been poorly enforced by authorities.
Government response to the problem has been known to not have stopped female foeticide from occurring. Although several acts have been passed to combat the situation, many of them are not enforced strongly enough. This and the existence of several loopholes in the system means the practice of sex-selective abortion continues. An example of one of these loopholes would be on the pretext of checking for genetic disorders in the foetus, who can stop a doctor from examining the sex of the unborn child and informing the parents in secret.
In 2001, the Supreme Court in India gave orders to five multi-national companies — Philips, Siemens, Toshiba, Larsen and Toubro and Wipro GE — to give them the names and addresses of all the clinics and persons in India to whom they have sold ultrasound machines in the last five years to enable the state government to find out if these machines were registered. Unfortunately, not much happened after this directive, although the companies were reported to have supplied all the information that was required. The Statesman, a leading newspaper reported on February 3, 2002 that not a single illegal ultrasound machine has been impounded in Delhi.
Banning pre-conception sex-determination tests calls for new legislation. But the fact is that even the present PNDT Act is full of loopholes and cannot be effectively implemented. Law certainly empowers the government to act but the fundamental question is whether the government or Supreme Court can alone usher in social transformation in Indian society.
India’s prime minister acknowledges gendercide as a national shame, however, the police and judiciaries do not implement the law because they believe in the same thing. Authorities often let the unlawful parents and doctors off with light punishment. Often, when the mothers disobey the husband’s family decision to abort the female foetus and report it to the authorities, the suits are ignored or given a light sentence: The mother is targeted for bearing girls and disobeying the family’s decision to abort the child. She may even lose her job, be expose to constant death threats, and be left with unresolved cases. In addition, others who give birth to girls are prone to violence. Even if she is able to give birth to the baby girls, the family is likely to not report the births and even murder them.
Response from others
Increasing awareness of the problem has led to multiple campaigns by celebrities and journalists to combat sex-selective abortions. Aamir Khan devoted the first episode "Daughters Are Precious" of his show Satyamev Jayate to raise awareness of this widespread practice, focusing primarily on Western Rajastan, which is known to be one of the areas where this practice is common. Its sex ratio dropped to 883 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011 from 901 girls to 1000 boys in 2001. Rapid response was shown by local government in Rajastan after the airing of this show, showing the effect of media and nationwide awareness on the issue. A vow was made by officials to set up fast-track courts to punish those who practice sex-based abortion. They cancelled the licences of six sonography centres and issued notices to over 20 others.
This has been done on the smaller scale. Cultural intervention has been addressed through theatre. Plays such as 'Pacha Mannu', which is about female infanticide/foeticide, has been produced by a women's theatre group in Tamil Nadu. This play was showing mostly in communities that practice female infanticide/foeticide and has led to a redefinition of a methodology of consciousness raising, opening up varied ways of understanding and subverting cultural expressions.
In a recent landmark judgement the Bombay High Court upheld an amendment to the PCPNDT Act banning sex-selection treatment. The Court pronounced that "pre natal sex determination would be as good as female foeticide. Pre-conception sex determination violated a woman's right to live and was against the Constitution."
The Beti Bachao, or Save girls campaign, has been underway in many Indian communities since the early 2000s. The campaign uses the media to raise awareness of the gender disparities creating, and resulting from, sex-selective abortion. Beti Bachao activities include rallies, posters, short videos and television commercials, some of which are sponsored by state and local governments and other organisations. Many celebrities in India have publicly supported the Beti Bachao campaign.
- Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994
- Domestic violence in India
- Dowry system in India
- Sexism in India
- Sex-selective abortion
- Bride burning
- Selective reduction
- Sex selection
- Female infanticide in India
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- Documentaries on Female Foeticide