UNFPA launched its report in the end of June 2020, known as State of World Population 2020, which focuses on the status of women across the world in 2020. Universally, there are many problems which women have to go through throughout the lifecycle. Problems start from the very stage of conception of a baby girl in the womb and end till the elderly stage. Sex selective abortion, which is also known as Female foeticide, is a major practice of killing girls in the womb; and if born, many survival problems awaits for the girl child in this world. Problems like Female infanticide, neglect, female genital mutilation, child marriage, early pregnancy, closer and multiple pregnancies, foot binding, economic neglect, physical violence, trafficking, rape, sexual violence, domestic violence, loss of diet and many more rights, etc.
Prior to technology, women had the right to be born, but patriarchy and use of technology have even snatched birth rights from the hands of a girl child. Son preference is present across the world. Parents associate girl child with problems of paying for the dowry, paying for a girl’s education, child marriage, etc. This has led to a major imbalance in the sex ratio of boys and girls across the world. Recent UNFPA report suggests that between 2013 and 2017 in India alone (ironically a nation developing at a fast pace), 4,60,000 (4.6 lakh) girls are missing at birth only.
As per the report, according to one analysis, gender-biased sex selection accounts for about two thirds of the total missing girls, and post birth, female mortality accounts for about third one. Gender-biased sex selection is highly linked to son preference. Post birth female mortality include – neglect, infanticide, not giving enough food to girl child leading to malnutrition and death. High mortality in girls indicates that girls are facing discrimination in care assistance since a very young age.
The roots of son preference and female foeticide lie in the patriarchy, which has always led to the oppression of girls and women and giving more value to men and the boys. Since boys are more valued in the society, there is immense pressure on women about giving birth to a boy. Boys are treated as an asset for the society, while girls are still considered as a burden in the society. Boys are considered as the family lineage and are expected to be the bread earners and supporters of the family. This has somehow become the tree of unbreakable norm, which has different branches, and perpetrators are watering this by various crimes like eve-teasing, rape and violence, which control the mobility of girls and females and they lose the opportunity of growing and surviving in the world.
UNFPA report also shows that as in 2012, India has the highest rate of excess female mortality at 13.5 per 1000 in the world, which suggests that an estimated one in nine deaths of females below the age of 5 may be attributed to post-natal sex selection. Post-natal sex selection include neglect (the health and nutrition) of daughters deliberately in order to kill them, or in extreme cases, some couples also choose to opt for infanticide by either giving poisonous items like lead or dathura, which kill the girl infant or using extreme practices like drowning the girl child in boiling water, and many more.
Gender-biased sex selection is initially higher in the wealthier families as they have resources to use the technology, and then it spreads to the lower socio-economic sections of the society. It is not something preserved in the backward classes; rather statistics from different report suggests that incidence of gender-biased sex selection is more prevalent in the well-off families. There are remote areas particularly for the upper strata which helps them in aborting the girl child in the mobile abortion vans.
Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act came in India in 1971 for maintaining the health status of women and ensuring them the right of health, but rather the people started to exploit it for killing the girl child in the womb. This heinous practice demanded new provisions as it worsened the already disturbed existing sex ratio of children under age of 5 in India during 1990s. PCPNDTA (Pre-conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Act) came in 1993 in order to ban the female foeticide and infanticide and improve the sex ratio. Later, incentivized schemes such as Laadli Yojana and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao came for improving the sex ratio in the regions which were severely hit by the imbalanced sex ratio.
Despite all the schemes and Acts present today in India for enhancing the survival rate of girl child, UNFPA report suggests that approx. 4,60,000 of female child are missing at the time of birth each year. This asks for bringing a shift in cultural and social norms present in our society, which somehow are responsible for the disturbed sex ratio. Norms which include lesser respect towards women, less value assigned to her life and moreover, considering her as a burden.
There is an urgent need of bringing social behavior change in the population of India specifically focusing on young boys and men, who can be the catalyst for change. We need to think of the strategies which primarily focus on sensitization of men and youth, and inclusion of men against patriarchy.
The article was first published here.