Female Foeticide: A Spot on Mankind
Dr. Sadaf Nasir, Dr. Naila Rashid
Guest Faculty, Department of Sociology, AMU, Aligarh,
PGT (SSSC) Boys, AMU, Aligarh
The natural and biological laws of human reproduction maintain mankind’s sex ratio. These laws are slowly and steadily eroded by customs, traditions, and religious beliefs. One of the greatest threats to our contemporary civilization is the menace of a skewed sex ratio (Patel, 2007). The increasing imbalance between men and women is leading to many crimes such as illegal trafficking of women, sexual assaults, polygamy and dehumanization of society (www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l292-Female-Foeticide.html). Women, who constitute half of the human population, have been discriminated, harassed and irrespective of the country to which they belong, unmindful of the religion which they profess and oblivious of the timeframe in which they live (Jena, 1998). This oppression has taken a further toll in the present day by the misuse of sophisticated medical technologies. Nature has no bias towards gender, unlike us humans. As a result, we are encountering an adverse sex ratio in South and East Asian countries like China, India, etc. The decline in sex ratio is due to a combination of anti-natalist policy, illegal abortions, and illegal foetal sex determination tests which are mediated through informal networks which are “Social/neighborhood and kinship ties, both as a means and resource, and the manner these are used by people in the community” (Patel, 2007).
In India, girl children and women are most vulnerable to discrimination and deprivation. Even today, dowry is the greatest menace. It is estimated that India is experiencing a dowry death every 93 minutes. Again, the rate of female foeticide and infanticide are rapidly increasing in our society. This reflects that although sati is abolished, the atrocities against the female gender in India have taken various shapes and sizes. Indian society is also patrilineal, patriarchal and patrilocal, with obvious gender biases in our male-dominated society. It is said that, “a woman who gives birth to only daughters may be left in the eleventh year of marriage” (Sharma & Jain, 2005). The escalating demand for dowry is cited as one of the major reason for female foeticide. Daughters are considered that as financial liabilities by parents the fruits of expanding on daughter is considered to be raped by the in-laws, opposed to the attitude, towards the male. It is the thinking that children who are seen as the breadwinners, who will look after their parents, would carry on the name of the family. The thinking is strengthened and propagated by economic, religious, social and emotional desires and norms, which leads to the “Parents expecting sons but not daughters to provide financial and emotional care, especially in their old age; sons add to family wealth and property while daughters drain it through dowries; sons continue the family lineage while daughters are married away to another household; sons perform important religious roles; and sons defend and exercise the family’s power while daughters have to be defended and protected creating a perceived burden on the household” (Pande & Malhotra, 2005). Female foeticide is aborting the female baby in the mother’s womb. Whereas female infanticide is killing a baby girl after she is being born.
The practice of killing the female child after her birth has been prevailing in our society for many years. But foeticide is the legacy and contribution of the progress made by the medical science. Amniocentesis was introduced in 1975 to detect foetal abnormalities but it soon began to be used for determining the sex of the baby. Ultrasound scanning, being a non-invasive technique, quickly gained popularity and is now available in some of the most remote rural areas. Both techniques are now being used for sex determination, with the intention of abortion if the foetus turns out to be female (Jena, 1998).
The girl child in India is treated right from her birth as an additional burden and an extra mouth to feed, a liability and another man’s property. The birth of a son is regarded as essential in Hinduism and many prayers and lavish offerings are made in temples in the hope of having a male child. Woman is created at par with man in all aspects. “Women have equal rights with men upon earth; in religion and society they are a very important element. Divine Justice demands that the rights of both sexes should be equally respected since neither is superior to the other in the eyes of Heaven.” These authoritative statements from the Bahai’s (2001), writing are regarded by Bahai’s as expressions of the Divine Will. To deprive women arbitrarily of their rights and privileges, or to prevent them from even being born or killing them in infancy is both immoral and unjust, a violation of God’s law. It has an ultimate detrimental effect on the society as a whole.
The butchering of women occurs in various forms in societies the world over. However, Indian society displays some unique and particularly brutal versions, such as dowry deaths and sati. The escalating demand for dowry is cited as one of the major reasons for female foeticide. The cause for this rise is the thinking that children are the future sole breadwinners of the family, who will look after their parents and carry on the name of the family. The thinking is strengthened and propagated by economic, religious, social and emotional desires and norms, which lead to “Parents expecting sons but not daughters to provide financial and emotional care, especially in their old age; sons add to family wealth and property while daughters drain it through dowries; sons continue the family lineage while daughters are married away to another household; sons perform important religious roles; and sons defend and exercise the family’s power while daughters have to be defended and protected creating a perceived burden on the household”.
The need for a dowry for girl children, and the ability to demand a dowry for boys exerts considerable economic pressure on families to use any means to avoid having girls, who are seen as a liability. It has been reported in a newspaper that there are posters in Bombay advertising sex-determination tests that read, ‘It is better to pay Rs. 500 now than Rs. 50,000 (in dowry) later’. Female foeticide is an extreme manifestation of violence against women. Female foetuses are selectively aborted after pre-natal sex determination, thus avoiding the birth of girls. As a result of selective abortion, 35 to 40 million girls and future women are missing from the Indian population. In some parts of the country, the sex ratio of girls to boys has dropped to less than 800:1,000.
The sex ratio has altered consistently in favour of boys since the beginning of the 20th century, and the effect has been most pronounced in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. It was in these states that the establishment of private foetal sex determination clinics was responsible for popularity of the practice of selective abortion from the late 1970s. Worryingly, the trend is far stronger in urban rather than rural areas, and among literate rather than illiterate women, exploding the myth that growing affluence and spread of basic education alone will result in the erosion of gender bias (www.rootideas.com/2009/09/female-foeticide-2/). Therefore, in today’s world, this notion of women as burden has become the reason for female foeticide and infanticide.
Even though law is a powerful instrument of change, yet the law alone cannot root out this social problem. Girls are devalued not only because of the economic considerations but also because of socio-cultural factors, such as the belief that son extends the lineage, enlarges the family tree, provides protection, safety and security to the family and is necessary for salvation as he alone can light the funeral pyre and perform other death related rites and rituals. Evidence indicates that the problem of female foeticide and infanticide is more prevalent in orthodox families (Srivastava, 2001).
In our country, a girl is worshiped as a Devi on one hand and denied her existence on the other, as if she has no right to live. Time has perhaps come for us to get rid of male chauvinism and treat children as gifts of nature regardless of their gender. A future society with only males and no females is unimaginable. The legislations enacted in this behalf are not sufficient. Orthodox views regarding women need to be changed. It is, therefore, essential that these socio-cultural factors must be tackled by changing the thought process through the generation of awareness, mass appeal and social action. In addition to this, all concerned i.e. the religious and social leaders, voluntary organisations women’s groups, socially responsible media, the doctors; the Medical Council/Association (by enforcing medical ethics and penalties on deviant doctors) and the law enforcement personnel should work in a coordinated way.
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