Orissa Review * December - 2008
Female Foeticide in India : A Serious Challenge for the Society Dr. Krushna Chandra Jena
Women who constitute half a human population have been discriminated, harassed and exploited irrespective of the country to which they belong, unmindful of the religion which they profess and oblivious of the timeframe in which they live.1 Everywhere women are confronted with many challenges. Female foeticide is perhaps one of the worst forms of violence against women where a woman is denied her most basic and fundamental right i.e “the right to life”. The phenomenon of female foeticide in India is not new, where female embryos or foetuses are selectively eliminated after pre-natal sex determination, thus eliminating girl child even before they are born. As a result of selective abortion, between 35 and 40 million girls and 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 800:1000. The United Nations has expressed serious concern about the situation. The long standing tradition of son preference, coupled with medical technology now gives to the status conscious Indian families, the choice between payment of large dowry for their daughters or elimination of daughters. The traditional method of getting rid of the unwanted girl child was female infanticide, where the female baby was done away with after birth in various 8
ways – either by poisoning the baby or letting her choke on husk or simply by crushing her skull under a charpoy. With the advancement of medical technology sophisticated techniques can now be used or rather misused, to get rid of her before birth. Through ultrasound scans and amniocentesis, the sex of the foetus can be determined during the pregnancy of the woman and then the foetus is aborted if found to be female.2 In Indian society, female foeticide has emerged as a burning social problem during the last few years. The girl child in India is treated right from her birth as an additional burden 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. Modern medical technology is used in the service of this religion driven devaluing of women and girls. Woman is created 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 writing are regarded by Bahai’s as expressions of the Divine Will. To
Orissa Review * December - 2008
deprive women arbitrarily of there rights and privileges, or to deprive them to even being born or killing them in infancy is both immoral and unjust, a violation of God’s law. It has a detrimental effect on the society and the individuals who are involved in this practice are responsible for such acts.3 But does the Indian society accept this reality? If so why female foeticide and female infanticide are on the increase ? The sex ratio has altered consistently in favour of boys since the beginning of the 20th century (see Table), and the effect has been most pronounced in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. It was in these states that private foetal sex determination clinics were first established and the practice of selective abortion became popular from the late 1970s. Worryingly, the trend is far stronger in urban rather than rural areas, and among literate rather than illiterate women. Sex Ratio (females per 1000 males), India 1901–2001 Year 1901 1911 1921 1931 1941 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001 Sex Ratio 972 964 955 950 945 946 941 930 934 929 933 Sex Ratio in Children (0–6yr) – – – – – – 976 964 962 945 927
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