The evil of female foeticide in India

A major social problem in Indian society, the preference for a son as a norm continues to grow, leading to (aborting the female foetus). Despite being prohibited by law since 1961, we still witness an alarming rate of the deteriorating sex ratio. Using prenatal diagnostic techniques to determine the sex, these clinics and practices have become more than a 1000 crore industry. According to the 2001 census the sex ratio in parts like Punjab, Haryana and Delhi dropped to less than 800:1000

Given the traditional customs and beliefs, its not surprising that approximately 10 million female foetuses were aborted over the past two decades. Religion also plays an important role in influencing the sex ratio, the highest being among the Christians and the lowest being among the Sikh and Jain communities.

The evil of female foeticide in India

The root cause of this is the mentality of the being a burden. Due to the dowry system and being considered an economic liability , many poor families delve into the practice of female foeticide and . Though in Vedic times worshiped as goddesses, the status of women went through a significant decline resulting in them being treated worse than slaves. Boys on the other hand are considered as a pillar of support for the household and his parents at old age.

Increased availability and advancement of technology are also major factors contributing to this evil. Methods like trans-vaginal sonography and abdominal ultrasound have proved to be accessible, inexpensive and feasible in determining the sex of the unborn child. More widespread among economically well off areas, it gained popularity and widespread usage in the early 1990s, becoming  an unstoppable trend replacing the tendency for families to continuously produce children until ‘blessed’ with a male child. Corrupt doctors also often gave in to this and kept their pockets full. All this coupled with the traditional gender bias forms the factors responsible. The debate on improvement in literacy rates among women to change the sex ratio has no solid standing since a study showed educated mothers in Punjab are more prone to discriminate than the uneducated ones. On the other hand matriarchal societies like in the south and northeastern states have a comparatively better sex ratio due to the high social standing of women.

Female foeticide leads to a surge in trafficking due to the decrease in female population. A report from 2011 shows 15000 women bought and sold as brides in north Indian states like Haryana from states like Assam and West Bengal, places with a balanced sex ratio. This also leads to a high level of female exploitation due to our patriarchal and now male dominated society. To curb this major social evil, its not enough to merely keep a check on the practice of prenatal sex determination but it is also necessary to provide measures aimed at improving the status and standing of women in the society.

The Indian government has taken a few steps like

  1. The – The Pre-Conception And Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation And Prevention of Misuse) Act  enacted in 1994 bans sex selection before and after conception, regulating the use of prenatal diagnostic techniques strictly only for medical purposes. Violations of this act carry a 3 year jail term for the first year and 5 year jail term for the second offence with fines of Rs. 10000 and Rs. 50000 respectively.  Though a little ineffective with the existing loopholes, It provides for mandatory registration of clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, curbing foeticide and balancing the sex ratio.
  2. Save the girl child campaign ( beti bachao andolan)  launched by the government aims at promoting an environment where both sons and daughters are equally valued. The intensive information , education and communication campaign focuses on educating and inculcating the value of respect among young boys and involving the media in promoting a positive image of women.
  3. NGOs encouraged to set up self help groups, provide employment opportunities and provide counselling to newly married or pregnant women, discouraging female foeticide
  4. National Plan of Action for the girl child was formulated in 1992 for the “Survival, Protection and Development of the Girl Children”, recognising the rights of the girl child to equal opportunity, to be free from hunger, illiteracy and exploitation. Objectives included preventing cases of female infanticide and foeticide, ending  gender disparity, providing nutritional interventions to reduce malnourishment and ensuring immunisation against all forms of serious illness
  5. Balika Samriddhi Yojana, implemented with the objective of improving enrollment in schools, providing economic opportunities , raising the age of marriage and altering the negative outlook of the society on having a girl child
  6. Dhanalakshmi , a pilot program aimed at providing he families  financial incentives to encourage them to retain the girl child.
The evil of female foeticide in India

Laws In India For The Unborn

  1. The of India, 1950- article 21 (right to life)
  2. Sections 312 ( Indian penal code, 1860)- any person who causes miscarriage for any other purpose other than to save her life or in good faith will be imprisoned for a period of 3 years with a fine
  3. Section 313 ( Indian penal code, 1860)- whoever commits the offence of causing miscarriage without the womans consent will be imprisoned for life or for a term of 10 years.
  4. Section 314 ( Indian penal code, 1860) – whoever kills a woman with the intention of causing a miscarriage will also be held liable with a jail term and fine.
  5. Section 315 ( Indian penal code, 1860)-   Whoever before the birth of any child does an act with the intention of  preventing that child from being born alive or causing it to die after its birth, other than for the purpose of saving the mothers life or goodwill will be imprisoned with a fine
  6. Section 316. ( Indian penal code, 1860)-anyone who causes death of a quick unborn child by act amounting to culpable homicide would be imprisoned.

Preventive Measures

1.Increasing awareness highlighting the issue of female foeticide and the skewed gender ratio. This can be done through various campaigns by celebrities and influential people to combat this social evil. Plays, commercials and television shows like Satyamev Jayate hosted by Amir Khan are a few examples demonstrating how media has an extremely important role to play here.

2.Efficient method of registration of nursing homes and hospitals, defaulting which rigorous action would be taken.

3.Government to provide more financial support and reservation to educate the girls belonging to poor families, focusing on women empowerment.

4.Stringent laws for dowry and other crimes against women.

Conclusion

In a country where people worship various forms of goddesses, its an irony that such an evil exists. A shortage of girls would lead to a shortage in brides making them a ‘scarce commodity’. Women are equal to men in all ways and have fundamental rights like health, education and dignity which need to be upheld with utmost importance. India still has a long way to go in the fight against pre-birth elimination of females but with proper social action, mass appeal and awareness this problem too can be tackled.

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