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Female feticide: Issues and concerns

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In a country where, as per scriptures, Gods reside in places where a woman is worshiped (Yatra Nari Astu Pujyante, Ramante Tatra Devataa), female foeticide is an ironical but sad truth. It has become a grave social issue across the country. Female foetuses are killed in the wombs of their mothers through Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) by a ruthless society that prefers sons over daughters.

The bane of dowry: In many traditional, conservative families, a girl is considered a liability or burden, due to the evil practice of demanding dowry at time of marriage. Often, she is also subjected to sexual harassment, molestation, rape and beating, prompting the parents to fear the prospect of rearing, educating, protecting or marrying off their daughters. Daily newspapers are full of the news about molestation, rapes, acid-throwing, sexual harassment, bride beating and burning, which accentuate the apprehension of families regarding a girl child, All these things, in turn, encourage the practice of aborting the foetus in case it is determined to be female.

Misuse of pre-natal tests: There is increasing trend of the misuse of the pre-natal technologies which are used to determine pre-birth deficiencies or infirmities in a child. Aiding the massacre of unborn girls are the mushrooming ultrasound clinics who connive with parents in carrying out sex-determination tests and killing the child in the womb, in case it is found out to be a girl. Such unscrupulous people deserve strictest punishment but they are able to escape the law in most cases due to inadequacies in the law enforcing mechanism.

Age-old biases: Traditional, conservative families are still unable to shake off their longing for a son as they tend to believe that only sons can carry their family names forward and also look after them in their old age. They also subscribe to the notion that only when funeral rites are performed by a son that the deceased attains salvation.

Disturbing statistics: According to 2011 Census, the birth of girls was pegged at 914.23 for every 1,000 boys in the age group 0-6 years, contrary to 927.31 for every 1,000 boys in the 2001 Census. Except improvement in the sex ratio in Kerala, Lakshadweep and Pondicherry, all other states have reported decrease in the number of girls, notable among them being Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Chandigarh and Gujarat.

Change in the air: But gradually, the winds of change have started blowing across the society as girls are doing exceptionally well in various professions, bringing a sense of pride and recognition to their families, cities and nation. They have broken all barriers and excelled in all fields, be it sports, armed forces, business or politics. In the recently held Rio Olympics 2016, only two women were the lone medal winners for India – P V Sindhu in badminton and Sakshi Malik in wrestling. The field of politics today is also dominated by women – Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Sheila Dixit; Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharti, Vasundhra Raje, Menaka Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Pankaja Munde, Mamata Bannerjee, Mayawati, Brinda Karat, and Mehbooba Mufti.

But miles to go…: Consequently, social attitudes towards women are changing, leading to their empowerment, still we cannot say that it has put an end to the practice of female foeticide as it will take time for the change in mindsets to percolate down to all towns and cities of the country. Generally, after the birth of two or more girls, many parents go for sex-selective tests and go ahead with the pregnancy only if the foetus is found to be a male.

In some rural areas where people cannot go for sex-determination tests, female foeticide degenerates into female infanticide wherein a girl child is killed after birth by unimaginably horrible methods – she is strangulated, poisoned, dumped in garbage bins, drowned, burnt alive, or starved to death. Sadly, such crimes are committed by mothers or other female members of the household all because they are prisoners of their own regressive, medieval outlook.

Generally, in urban areas too, things are not different on the ground. The desire for a male child is common across households irrespective of their socio-economic conditions. So, the educated couples take recourse to ultrasound techniques of determining the gender of their unborn child and in case it is found to be female, they have no qualms about terminating it through MTP.

Conclusion: The root cause of the still prevalence of female foeticide in the 21st century is the age-old patriarchal mindset where sweets are distributed after the birth of a baby boy but the birth of a girl plunges the family into unexplained sadness. We need to empower girls in every sense of the term – educational, social, economic and political so that Indian families learn to practice no-discrimination with regard to the gender of their child.