Once in our lives, most of us must have heard that a child is a ‘gift’ from God. Though whatever biology may suggest, it is not an uncommon sight in India to see couples praying to be blessed with a child. But almost half of India, no longer considers it a blessing if that child happens to be a girl. The blessing soon becomes a curse and the ‘precious gift’ is done away with as soon as possible before extending another demand to God, that of a ‘male’ child. The doing away often includes either being ‘given’ in marriage to another toddler (or in some cases, to men twice or even thrice their age) or worse, slaying her even before she can take one free breath. Of late, technology seems to have facilitated this diabolical slaughter even before the birth of the child in the form of female foeticide. The term female foeticide means killing the female foetus in the mother's womb. 24th September is celebrated as the International Girl Child Day.
When we celebrate progress, we know that it has been too slow. More than 50 yrs of independence, it is still a women’s face we see when we speak of poverty, of HIV/AIDS, of violent conflicts and social upheaval. Let us assert once again that each women and girl is a unique and at the same time valuable human being, who is entitled to equal opportunities and universally adopted human rights, no matter where she is born or where she lives.
According to the Indian government, 10 million girls have been killed, either before or immediately after birth, by their parents over the past couple of decades despite a law that the government enacted that bans scan tests forecasting the sex of the baby in the womb. The United Nations says an estimated 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India. Now is the time to energise efforts to put gender equality at the top of international peace and development agenda.
However, doubts are bound to be raised on the effectiveness of the legislation as the issue mainly relates to people’s attitudes and preferences. The desire for a son, for instance, is deep-rooted in both rural and urban areas. The problem of dowry and the choice of a son for social security have also contributed to the malady. However, these have led to serious gender discrimination and adverse demographic implications in many states. For instance, according to an estimate, parts of Haryana have witnessed a dip in sex ratio — 618 girls for 1,000 boys. On the whole, while the national sex ratio is 933 per 1,000 men, in Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh and Delhi, it is below 900. This shows that the menace has reached alarming proportions even in urban areas.
Amongst the states, the northern state of Punjab tops the list in number of female foeticide cases reported over the last three years with Rajasthan coming next. The country as a whole reported 294 cases during the same period. According to figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau in Punjab, 81 cases were registered for female foeticide while for Rajasthan the corresponding number was 51. Madhya Pradesh registered 21 cases, Haryana 18 and Chattisgarh 24.In Rajasthan, the number of cases registered has shown a steady decline since the last three years with 25, 16 and 10 cases being registered in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The National Capital saw seven cases registered in 2006, four in 2007 and two in 2008. A medical expert in India says that an estimated 80,000 women die from legal abortions on an annual basis.
BACKDROP: STATUS OF WOMEN
The adverse sex ratio has been linked with the low status of women in Indian communities, both Hindu and Muslim. The...