Female Foeticide

 

Dr. Ritu Bala

Asst. Prof. Department of Social Work Punjabi University, Patiala

*Corresponding Author Email: dr.ritusharma71@gmail.com

 

ABSTRACT:

Female foeticide is a ruthless expression of crime against women where a girl is abandoned of even the right to be born. Aborting female foetuses is both practical and socially acceptable in India. It is driven by many factors, but primarily due to premium on sons as they offer security to their families in old age and can perform the rites for the souls of deceased parents and ancestors and on the contrary daughters are perceived as a social and economic burden. Female foeticide is a new phenomenon and is outcome of technological advancement which was for the purpose of detecting abnormalities in the foetus if any so that unhealthy or abnormal foetus could well in time be medically terminated. The killing of female foetuses in the womb would have devastating effects on society in the long run, one very visible consequence is declining sex ratio which in turn would lead to rising crime against women and practices of bride buying. The present paper talks about the gravity of the problem, causes and consequences of female foeticide.

 

KEYWORDS: Female Foeticide, inheritance, amniocentesis.

 

 


INTRODUCTION:

The practice of female foeticide is a ruthless expression of crime against women where a girl is abandoned of even the right to be born. The killing of female foetuses in mother’s womb has resulted in sharp decline in the sex ratio. It is paradox in Indian society that on one side there is practice of ‘Kanya Poojan’ (Worship of girl child) whereas on the other hand they are brutally killed in mother’s womb and if born killed immediately after birth. As a result 40-50 million girls are missing from India’s population. There are socio cultural and religious factors responsible for devaluing women. Religious and social milieu in the country put high premium on male child resulting in systematic discrimination against the girl child. Due to deep rooted patriarchy, women have been discriminated against at all stages of their life.

 

One of the most heinous ways of the discrimination against women in a society is through female foeticide due to which she is even denied the right to be born.

 

Female foeticide is outcome of ultra sound machines and technological advancement which was for the purpose of detecting abnormalities in the foetus if any so that unhealthy or abnormal foetus could well in time be medically terminated. Female foeticide is a fairly new practice, but its roots lie in the centuries old practice of female infanticide in India. Female infanticide is a deliberate and intentional act of killing a female child within one year of its birth either directly by using poisonous organic and inorganic chemicals or indirectly by deliberate neglect to feed the infant by either the parents or other family members (Koradia, K. 2013). Kolloor (1990) defines infanticide as, "Killing of an entirely dependent child under "one year of age" who is killed by mother, parents or others in whose care the child is entrusted". Infanticide was initially documented by British officials in 1789 among a clan of Rajputs in eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh. At the time of first Census survey of India in 1871, sex ratio was 940 females per 1000 males. This led to the passing of Infanticide Act 1870 making it illegal. But it was difficult to enforce this act in the country where most birth took place at home and where vital registration was not commonly done (Patel, Rita). Desai (1988) reported that in the last century female infanticide was so wide spread in a particular clan among Rajputs in Saurashtra and Kutch region that only five families were found those had not killed their new born daughters. Looking into the reasons of female infanticide, it lies in socio-cultural and religious milieu of India which is pre-dominantly patriarchal contributing extensively to the secondary status to women. Another important pillar of the patriarchal structure is marriage wherein women are given a subordinate status, having no say in the family. Exorbitant dowry demand is one of the main reasons for female infanticide. Some of the other reasons are the belief that it is only the son who can perform the last rites, that lineage and inheritance runs through the male line, sons will look after parents in old age, men are the bread winners etc. Son-preference is so ingrained in the Indian family system that many women don't feel they have done their wifely duty until they produce a son (Koradia, K. et al, 2013).

 

However, female foeticide is the act of aborting or terminating a foetus while it’s still in the womb, because it is female. This can be done after determining the sex of the child before it’s born, through ultrasound scans. Female foeticide is a two-step process. The first step involves determination of the sex of the fetus in one of three ways: amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling, or ultrasound. The second step consists of the therapeutic abortion which, in India, was legalized in 1971 under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and is readily available and free of charge in government hospitals and clinics throughout the country (Solapurkar, 1991 cited in Patel, Rita). In amniocentesis, fluid containing fetal cells is extracted by inserting a catheter into the sac surrounding the fetus. Amniocentesis is normally performed at 15-17 weeks of pregnancy. The fetal cells from the amniocentesis are examined for genetic defects in the fetus and a sex determination can be made at the same time. The results are usually complete within 1-2 weeks which allows for an early second trimester abortion if desired. The test is conducted in clinics and hospitals in most of the cities in India. Although rural areas have limited access to such technology, many of the rural health centers have the capability to obtain the amniotic fluid and then send it by messenger to an urban center (Kusum, 1993 cited in Patel, R.). Chorionic villus sampling is a slightly more technically difficult test than amniocentesis. Its major advantage lies in the fact that it can be performed earlier in the pregnancy (around the tenth week of gestation), thus allowing for an earlier and safer abortion, if desired. Ultrasound is less commonly used as a method of sex determination since it is not reliable until the second trimester of pregnancy. Even at that point, it is less accurate than either amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. This test is relatively simple to perform, however, and is available throughout India. Some entrepreneurs have even established travelling vans which can perform the procedure (Burns, 1994 cited in Patel, R.) Sex determination tests became big business shortly after their introduction in India in the 1970’s. Billboards stating, “Invest Rs. [rupees] 500 now, save Rs. 50,000 later” were designed to encourage prospective parents to abort female fetuses and save on a future dowry (Kusum, 1993 cited in Patel, R.). As a result, the male female sex ratio has dropped to less than 800 females for per 1000 males. Aborting female foetuses is both practical and socially acceptable in India. Female feticide is driven by many factors, but primarily due to premium on sons as they offer security to their families in old age and can perform the rites for the souls of deceased parents and ancestors and on the contrary daughters are perceived as a social and economic burden.

 

Gravity of the Problem:

Where men and women have equal access to care, nutrition, health and medical attention, women live longer than men because of their stronger biological constitution. E.g. in almost all the developed countries there are an average 106 women for every 100 men. However in India, there are about 93 women for every 100 men (UNICEF, 1995 cited in Singh, D.P.). A study report of abortion centres in Bombay revealed that out of 8000 abortions in six hospitals 7,999 were female foetuses (Gangrade, 1988 cited in Tandon, S.L. 2006). Between 1978 and 1982, according to one report, 78,000 female foetuses were aborted after a sex determination test (Kusum, 1993; Shah, 1992 cited in Patel, R.). In another study, 430 out of 450 female foetuses were aborted in one hospital, while none of 250 male foetuses were aborted even when there was evidence of a genetic problem (Ramanamma, 1980 cited in Patel, R.). According to Lancet (2006), over 10 million female foetuses in India have been aborted since 1994. The journal also reports that pre-natal sex selection in India causes the loss of 500000 girls every year. In 80 percent of India’s districts, situation is getting worst (UNICEF, 2007). The more recent action-aid study says that the figure of missing girls is close to 35 million in 2011 whereas UNICEF calculates 50 million fewer girls in India by 2012. UNICEF Annual Report 2011 reveals that in India, there are only 914 girls for every 1000 boys and often far fewer. However, according to the 2011 Census, the sex ratio in India is 943 females per 1000 males. Although there is a marginal improvement from the 2001Census, where it was 933, it continues to be significantly adverse towards women. The sex ratio in India over the past 100 years has shown an alarming decline from 972 in 1901, to 946 in 1991 and 943 in 2011. The child sex ratio has declined drastically since 1961, from 976 to 945 in 1991 and 919 in 2011. Female foeticide is comparatively a new phenomenon that has emerged as a result of technological advancement. Its impact is most pronounced in the states like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh in the northern region.

 

Causes:

Patriarchy:

It is responsible for devaluing women in the society and giving more preference for sons. The word “Patriarchy” literally means the rule of father or the “patriarch” and originally it was used to describe specific type of “male-dominant” family. The sociological explanation of patriarchy contends that social and cultural conditioning is primarily responsible for establishing male and female gender roles. The first lessons of patriarchy are learnt in the family where the head of the family is a man father. Man is considered the head of the family and controls women’s sexuality, labour or production, reproduction and mobility. In a patriarchal family the birth of male child is preferred to that of a female. The former is considered as the inheritor of the family while the later is considered as paraya dhan. Family socializes the next generation in patriarchal values. The boys learn to be dominating and aggressive and girls learn to be caring, loving and submissive. These stereotypes of masculinity and femininity are not only social constructs but also have been internalized by both men and women. While the pressure to earn and look after the family is more on the man, the women are supposed to do the menial jobs and take care of their children and even other members of the family. It is because of these gender stereotypes that women are at a disadvantage and are vulnerable to violence before and after birth (Sarshar, Mubashshir 2010). The effect of patriarchal orientation is so much that females also think in patriarchal manner and even the married literate women want sons as they do not want to live with a complex that they do not have a male child.

 

Son Preference:

Indian society is patriarchal in nature. The socio cultural milieu of the society is that sons carry on the family name. They are charged of looking after their parents in old age. Parents live as an extended family with their sons, daughter-in-laws and grand children. Daughters on the other hand become part of their husband’s family and do not contribute to their parents’ family any more. Indian saying such as “bringing up a girl is like watering the neighbour’s plant” exemplify the feeling of wasted expenditure on raising a daughter (Jeffery, 1984 cited in Patel,R.) More over it is also believed that moksha can only be attained if the last rites of the parents are performed by the son. Thus the importance of having sons continues beyond even this life in Indian culture. Apart from this, sons are seen as bread earners for the family and daughters are treated as economic burden.

 

Dowry:

Various research studies have pointed out dowry as one of the important reasons for female foeticide where the bride's family gives the groom's family money and/or gifts. Dowries were made illegal in India through Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 however the implementation of law is very poor, and the practice persists for most marriages. The bridegroom's demand for a dowry can easily exceed the annual salary of a typical Indian family, and consequently be economically disastrous especially in families with more than one or two daughters. Hence daughters are considered a liability for the family as they are not considered capable of earning money, seen economically and emotionally dependent on men and they have to leave their parental house after marriage. This might explain why the birth of a daughter may not always be perceived as equally blissful as the birth of a son, and why “May you be blessed with a hundred sons” is a common Hindu wedding blessing.

 

Poor status of women:

Although constitution of India treats women equal to men yet they have poor status in the society which is evident through discrimination they face during their life time. Before birth i.e. at conception stage, there is female foeticide and its consequences are visible through declining sex ratio. During infancy stage (between 0-1 year of age), they face infanticide, infant mortality and discrimination in breast feeding and health care. As a child, (between1-10 years of age), they undergo higher mortality rate, malnutrition, polio, anaemia, Iodine deficiency disorder, School drop-out, child labour, discrimination in food, health care and child abuse. As an adolescent, she suffers from malnutrition, anaemia, child marriage, child labour, school dropout, HIV/AIDS, trafficking and commercial sex work. During adulthood, as a worker she faces sexual abuse at workplace, wage discrimination, discrimination in employment, safety and security; as a wife she faces domestic violence, dowry harassment, sati, polygamy, desertion, divorce and unpaid care work; and as a pregnant woman she undergoes unsafe deliveries, early and frequent deliveries, under nutrition, anaemia and maternal mortality. This leads to poor status of women and as a result crime against women increases.

 

Two children norm:

Another reason given for the prevalence of sex selective abortion is promoting adherence to two children norm in the country. After the adoption of family planning programme in the country, it has become unfashionable to have large families. The ideal family size, particularly among the high socioeconomic classes, is two children. Given that at least one son is necessary, families with two daughters become increasingly anxious about the sex of their expected child. Studies have supported this theory, demonstrating that sex selective abortion occurs most frequently in families with two or more daughters (Ramanamma, 1980 cited in Patel, R.). People do not unwelcome the first daughter in family, but since they have to stick to two children norm, they cannot afford second daughter which subsequently leads to female foeticide. Multiple surveys have been undertaken to determine the general population’s view towards the practice of sex selective abortion. In one study of middle class Indians in Punjab, 63% of women and 54% of men felt that amniocentesis should be undertaken if the couple has no son and more than two daughters. If that test shows that the fetus is female, 73% of women and 60% of men felt that it should be aborted. The top three reasons cited for aborting a female fetus include “a male dominated society” (23%), “social stigma attached to having a daughter” (19%), and “difficult to afford a dowry” (17%) (Singh, 1992 cited in Patel,R.).

 

Poor implementation of law:

There are laws for every crime in India. Similarly, there are two laws in the country that deal with pre natal sex determination and abortion and they are Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 and Pre Natal Diagnostic Act, 1994 which was amended as Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Technique (PCPNDT), Act in 2002. These acts seek to regulate and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic techniques and malpractices relating to the female foetus which lead to the female foeticide. But implementation of these laws is a weak link. There are various lacunas in implementing these laws and lack of political will. Testimony to improper implementation is that very less people have been punished under PCPNDT Act though incidence of female foeticide are increasing day by day which is visible through continuously skewing sex ratio. Enactment of the Act has not been able to reverse the situation of declining sex ratio because there is no political will to effectively implement the PCPNDT Act. As a result, illegal abortions are being carried out very secretively and at very high cost.

 

Consequences:

Female foeticide has various far reaching and tragic socio-cultural consequences. Imbalance in sex ration has resulted into increase in crime against women. Some of the consequences have been illustrated below:

 

Decline in Child Sex Ratio:

The child sex ratio in India is 919 females per thousand males in 2011 census. It was 927 females per 1000 males in 1991. Haryana, one of the richest states in the country has the lowest child sex ratio. Other prominent states with skewed sex ratio are Punjab, Delhi, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat. It is horrifying to state that illegal foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion have developed into a Rs. 1000 crore industry in India. Female foeticide is being done without keeping its far reaching consequences in mind. Killing a girl child before or after she is born has an adverse effect on the sex ratio, has other negative consequences and leads to further social evils.

 

Practice of Bride Buying:

Female foeticide at large scale has resulted in shortage of girls for marriage. This has resulted into practice of bride buying. In a recent report by the Red Cross Society, there are large number of bachelors who have crossed the marriageable age in Punjab and Haryana because of shortage of girls. Eligible bachelors from these states are seeking brides from far away states of northeast and down south to change their single status to married. They are ready to pay a large amount of money to get married to a girl from other states like Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, or Madhya Pradesh.

 

Increase in Crime against Women:

Female foeticide has lead to the shortage of girls. Actually it is vicious cycle. Female foeticide leads to low status of women which in turn results into increase in crime against women. It is vice versa also as low status of women results in to female foeticide. As a result crime against women such as acid attacks, incest, rape, molestation, abduction and trafficking has increased over the last few years. Girls are kidnapped or stolen. They are sold and resold at varied prices. Eventually, they end up being prostitutes. According to National Crime Records Bureau, crime against women has increased many folds in last few decades.

 

Health Hazards for women:

Killing of foetus in the womb through abortion weakens the health of a woman. In some cases, the women have to undergo many abortions till they conceive a male child. The outcome is that there is an increasing number of maternal deaths. Women undergoing abortions are also more prone to infections and sickness. Sometimes they are married off even when they are below 18 years of age and are not able to negotiate with their spouses and fall prey to various reproductive health issues including HIV/AIDS.

 

Increase in Polyandry:

Shortage of females would lead to non availability of girls for marriage. It might lead to centuries’ old practice of polyandry in which one female marries with many men and men may or may not be brothers. Recent years have seen the rise in fraternal polyandry in the agrarian societies in Malwa region of Punjab to avoid division of farming land (Times of India, 2005). Till date it has not happened in Punjab due to skewed sex ratio. But if rate of killing the girls remain same, time will come soon that polyandry would again be popular form of marriage due to shortage of girls.

 

CONCLUSION:

Keeping these tragic consequences in mind, it is required that this brutal practice of killing daughter in the womb of the mother is stopped. Female foeticide is taking place in a country where women are worshipped and equated with goddesses. Everyone must understand that right to life, education, health and empowerment are the fundamental rights of every Indian woman. There is need to shun the hypocrisy and to implement more stringent laws so that this inhuman practice could be stopped. Along with this, there is need to change the mindset of the society by generating awareness among masses, by putting equal if not extra premium on daughters, by raising voice against any crime committed against girls and women, by loving and respecting them and by not treating them as burden. It is high time that mothers take this responsibility that they would not allow anyone to kill their daughters.

 

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Received on 25.01.2018       Modified on 20.04.2018

Accepted on 22.05.2018      ©A&V Publications All right reserved

Res.  J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 2018; 9(3): 693-697.

DOI: 10.5958/2321-5828.2018.00115.8