Where Are The Girls? Female Infanticide In India

By Vineeta Chawla:

baby girl child indiaIn the global scenario India is becoming a force to reckon with and we are very proud of this fact. But there are some home truths that we are unaware of or are turning a deaf year to them, female infanticide is one of them.

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 one of the parents or other family members. On the other hand female feticide is the termination of the life of a foetus within the womb on the grounds that its sex is female and is also known as sex selective abortion.

Infanticide is the homicide of an infant. Generally it is female infanticide as it is more prevalent than male infanticide. Female infanticide can also be defined 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”. It has been reported that female infanticide existed in India since 1789 in several districts of Rajasthan; along the western shores in Gujarat — Surat and Kutch; and among a clan of Rajputs in eastern part of Uttar Pradesh. It was so rampant in Kutch that only five of such families were found who had not killed their ‘new-born’ daughters. Today there are alarming reports of the baby girls being murdered even in areas where this practice did not exist earlier. Poverty, ignorance of family planning, cost of dowry, etc. have been reported as the possible causes for this crime.

Female foeticide, another heinous evil propelling in our society is the conjunction of two ethical evils: abortion and gender bias. In this the girl children become target of attack even before they are born. The practice of female foeticide is based on the sex determination by testing the amniotic fluid while the woman is pregnant. Such tests are banned in India but they are secretly and unethically carried out by some medical professionals. If the foetus is a female it is more often than not aborted. In fact in a well-known Abortion Centre in Mumbai, after undertaking the sex determination tests, out of the 15,914 abortions performed during 1984-85 almost 100 per cent were those of girl fetuses. Similarly, a survey report of women’s centre in Mumbai found that out of 8,000 fetuses aborted in six city hospitals 7,999 fetuses were of girls. It has also been reported that about 4,000 female babies are aborted in Tamil Nadu every year. Also female feticide has replaced female infanticide as a means to reduce or eliminate female offspring as in societies where women’s status is very low, many female fetuses are rejected.

Female feticide and infanticide has adversely affected Indian society. The biggest and most easily measurable effect is the low female-to-male ratios. It is so great that today 36% of men between the ages of 15 and 45 in the wealthy state of Haryana are unmarried. This prevalence of unmarried men has a destabilizing effect that counteracts the stabilizing and enriching effects of families in a society. In fact according to census statistics the number of female infants comparing to male infants has dropped from 972 girls per 1000 boys in 1901 to 929 girls per 1000 boys in 1991.

The number of girls is continuously decreasing and if no initiative is taken then there may be a time when we will have no girls in India. But cases like these only go ahead to show how big and deep rooted the problem is — many baby girls were brutally murdered in Rajasthan in March 2010, One-day-old girl thrown into canal was found alive in Kurukshetra in 2008 and obsessed with the desire to give birth to a son, a frustrated mother killed all her three daughters in Orissa in 2007.

There are a number of possible responses to the worldwide problem of female feticide. The most fundamental response is to decry the practice of abortion and the circumstances that lead women to resort to it. In India, a proposed nationwide network of orphanages would take in unwanted girl babies. The government also declared the misuse of ultrasound and other medical techniques but also condemned sex determination as a criminal offence in 1994 and many poor families with girls in India were given financial incentives. For stopping female feticide we need to spread awareness and many programs have been undertaken by the government for this. Also many NGOs and student bodies have taken up this cause.

The media also has recently taken up the cause of female infanticide in the form of television programs such as Na Aana Is Desh Lado (channel – Colours), Balika Vadhu etc. These series have generated awareness about such brutal acts among the people and also touched a chord with the people, especially the housewives of India. Because of wide media coverage the government has also come into action and is taking actions against the cruel practice.

The practice of killing the girl child is a cruel and abominable act that must be stopped. The only way for that is to spread awareness and make people realize the consequences of not saving their daughter. So wake up join campaigns launched by UNICEF and the Indian government and make your country a just one.

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