Female foeticide in India (Hindi: भ्रूणहत्या, translit. bhrūṇ-hatyā, lit. 'foeticide') is the abortion of a female foetus outside of legal methods.
The frequency of female foeticide in India is assumed to be an estimation derived from its high birth sex ratio, that is the ratio of boys to girls at birth. The natural ratio is assumed to be between 103 and 107, and any number above it is considered as suggestive of female foeticide. According to the decennial Indian census, the sex ratio in the 0 to 6 age group in India has risen from 102.4 males per 100 females in 1961, to 104.2 in 1980, to 107.5 in 2001, to 108.9 in 2011.
The child sex ratio is within the normal natural range in all eastern and southern states of India, but significantly higher in certain western and particularly northwestern states such as Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir (118, 120 and 116, as of 2011, respectively). The western states of Maharashtra and Rajasthan 2011 census found a child sex ratio of 113, Gujarat at 112 and Uttar Pradesh at 111.
The Indian census data suggests there is a positive correlation between abnormal sex ratio and better socio-economic status and literacy. This may be connected to the dowry system in India where dowry deaths occur when a girl is seen as a financial burden. Urban India has higher child sex ratio than rural India according to 1991, 2001 and 2011 Census data, implying higher prevalence of female foeticide in urban India. Similarly, child sex ratio greater than 115 boys per 100 girls is found in regions where the predominant majority is Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian; furthermore "normal" child sex ratio of 104 to 106 boys per 100 girls are also found in regions where the predominant majority is Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian. These data contradict any hypotheses that may suggest that sex selection is an archaic practice which takes place among uneducated, poor sections or particular religion of the Indian society.
There is an ongoing debate as to whether these high sex ratios are only caused by female foeticide or some of the higher ratio is explained by natural causes. The Indian government has passed Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT) in 1994 to ban and punish prenatal sex screening and female foeticide. It is currently illegal in India to determine or disclose sex of the foetus to anyone. However, there are concerns that PCPNDT Act has been poorly enforced by authorities.
High sex ratio implications
One school of scholars suggest that any birth sex ratio of boys to girls that is outside of the normal 105-107 range, necessarily implies sex-selective abortion. These scholars claim that both the sex ratio at birth and the population sex ratio are remarkably constant in human populations. Significant deviations in birth sex ratios from the normal range can only be explained by manipulation, that is sex-selective abortion. In a widely cited article,Amartya Sen compared the birth sex ratio in Europe (106) and United States (105) with those in Asia (107+) and argued that the high sex ratios in East Asia, West Asia and South Asia may be due to excessive female mortality. Sen pointed to research that had shown that if men and women receive similar nutritional and medical attention and good health care then females have better survival rates, and it is the male which is the genetically fragile sex. Sen estimated 'missing women' from extra women who would have survived in Asia if it had the same ratio of women to men as Europe and United States. According to Sen, the high birth sex ratio over decades, implies a female shortfall of 11% in Asia, or over 100 million women as missing from the 3 billion combined population of India, other South Asian countries, West Asia, North Africa and China.
India's Son Preference Leads to High Sex Ratio
There is a strong son preference in India and this leads to a high sex ratio prioritizing male lives over female lives. This graph depicts a typical Indian family's indifference curves between wanting to have a daughter or a son. Most families find greater utility in having a son so the curves are higher up on the y axis. When having a female becomes more expensive (due to dowry prices, lack of financial return in the future, educational and health expenses) then the budget curve has to swing inward on the x axis. Even though the budget stays the same, it is relatively more expensive to have a girl than to have a boy. The substitution effect shows that people move from point A on the first indifference curve to point B on the second indifference curve. They move from an already low number of females due to social reasons to even fewer daughters than before due to the added financial liability of daughters being more expensive. The number of males grows and the contrasting increase and decrease in quantities results in a high sex ratio. This is based on the unitary model of the household where the household is seen as a single decision making entity under the same budget constraint. However, the non-unitary model of households argues that people have different preferences in a family and are able to carry those out according to their level of bargaining power. In India, the unitary model is more likely to occur because of the patriarchal society that prioritizes male opinion and bargaining power in the household. This is not to say that all households follow this model, but enough of them do that it results in a high sex ratio.
Female foeticide has been linked to the arrival, in the early 1990s, of affordable ultrasound technology and its widespread adoption in India. Obstetric ultrasonography, either transvaginally or transabdominally, checks for various markers of fetal sex. It can be performed at or after week 12 of pregnancy. At this point, 3⁄4 of fetal sexes can be correctly determined, according to a 2001 study. Accuracy for males is approximately 50% and for females almost 100%. When performed after week 13 of pregnancy, ultrasonography gives an accurate result in almost 100% of cases.
Ultrasound technology arrived in China and India in 1979, but its expansion was slower in India. Ultrasound sex discernment technologies were first introduced in major cities of India in 1980s, its use expanded in India's urban regions in 1990s, and became widespread in 2000s.
Magnitude estimates for female foeticide
Estimates for female foeticide vary by scholar. One group estimates more than 10 million female foetuses may have been illegally aborted in India since 1990s, and 500,000 girls were being lost annually due to female foeticide. MacPherson estimates that 100,000 abortions every year continue to be performed in India solely because the fetus is female.
Reasons for female foeticide
Various theories have been proposed as possible reasons for sex-selective abortion. Culture is favored by some researchers, while some favor disparate gender-biased access to resources. Some demographers question whether sex-selective abortion or infanticide claims are accurate, because underreporting of female births may also explain high sex ratios. Natural reasons may also explain some of the abnormal sex ratios. Klasen and Wink suggest India and China’s high sex ratios are primarily the result of sex-selective abortion.
One school of scholars suggest that female foeticide can be seen through history and cultural background. Generally, male babies were preferred because they provided manual labor and success the family lineage. The selective abortion of female fetuses is most common in areas where cultural norms value male children over female children for a variety of social and economic reasons. A son is often preferred as an "asset" since he can earn and support the family; a daughter is a "liability" since she will be married off to another family, and so will not contribute financially to her parents. Female foeticide then, is a continuation in a different form, of a practice of female infanticide or withholding of postnatal health care for girls in certain households. Furthermore, in some cultures sons are expected to take care of their parents in their old age. These factors are complicated by the effect of diseases on child sex ratio, where communicable and noncommunicable diseases affect males and females differently.
Disparate gendered access to resource
Some of the variation in birth sex ratios and implied female foeticide may be due to disparate access to resources. As MacPherson (2007) notes, there can be significant differences in gender violence and access to food, healthcare, immunizations between male and female children. This leads to high infant and childhood mortality among girls, which causes changes in sex ratio.
Disparate, gendered access to resources appears to be strongly linked to socioeconomic status. Specifically, poorer families are sometimes forced to ration food, with daughters typically receiving less priority than sons (Klasen and Wink 2003). However, Klasen’s 2001 study revealed that this practice is less common in the poorest families, but rises dramatically in the slightly less poor families. Klasen and Wink’s 2003 study suggests that this is “related to greater female economic independence and fewer cultural strictures among the poorest sections of the population.” In other words, the poorest families are typically less bound by cultural expectations and norms, and women tend to have more freedom to become family breadwinners out of necessity.
Lopez and Ruzikah (1983) found that, when given the same resources, women tend to outlive men at all stages of life after infancy. However, globally, resources are not always allocated equitably. Thus, some scholars argue that disparities in access to resources such as healthcare, education, and nutrition play at least a small role in the high sex ratios seen in some parts of the world.
Public goods provisions by female leaders (majority vs. minority spillover goods)
Minority goods provided by female leaders in India help to alleviate some of the problems of disparate gendered access to resources for women. Public goods are defined as non-excludable and non-rival, but India lacks a system of public goods and has many problems with access to clean water or roads. Additionally, many of the "public goods" exclude females because families choose to prioritize their male children's access to those resources. In India, previous research has found that women leaders invest in public goods that are more in line with female preferences, in particular water infrastructure, which leads to a reduction in time spent on domestic chores by adolescent girls. This in turn results in more time for young girls to gain an education and increases their value to their families and to society so that they are more likely to give them access to resources in the future. Minority groups, like women, are likely to provide minority or low spillover goods such as transfers, rations, and water connections, which only benefit other women. The majority of men do not find any benefit from these goods and are less likely to invest in them. For example, in a study conducted by political scientists Chattopadhyay and Duflo, results show that in West Bengal women complain more about water and roads and the women politicians invest more in those issues. In Rajasthan, where women complain more often about drinking water, women politicians invest more in water and less in roads.
Even though the Dowry System legally ended with the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, the impossibility of monitoring families and the prevalence of corruption have led to its continuance all over India. A dowry is a payment from the bride's family to the groom's family at the time of marriage. It is often found in "socially stratified, monogamous societies that are economically complex and where women have a relatively small productive role". Theoretically, marriage results in partners choosing the mate who best maximizes their utility and there is equal distribution of returns to both participants. The outcome is pareto optimal and reaches equilibrium when no one can be better off with any other partner or choosing not to marry. However, if both partners do not share an equal distribution of the returns then there must be a transfer of funds between them in order to reach efficiency. In Indian society, the rise of economic growth has allowed men to work in "productive" jobs and gain an income, but many women are not afforded these opportunities. Therefore, women and their families have to compete for men and pay a dowry as a transaction payment to make up for the lack of productive inputs they bring into a marriage. Dowries have been rising in India for the last six decades and increased 15 percent annually between 1921 and 1981. Women are valued less in this partnership and therefore are asked to pay in order to gain the benefits a man brings. The power hierarchy and financial obligation created through this system help perpetuate acts like female foeticide and a high son preference. Additionally, the technological progress leading to sex selective abortions lowers the cost of discrimination and many people think that it is better to pay a "500 rupees now (abortion) instead of 50,000 rupees in the future (dowry)."
India's weak social security system
Another reason for this male preference is based on the economic benefits of having a son and the costs of having a daughter. In India, there is a very limited social security system so parents look to their sons to ensure their futures and care for them in old age. Daughters are liabilities because they have to leave to another family once they are married and cannot take care of their parents. Additionally, they do not contribute economically to the family wealth and are costly because of the dowry system. People in India usually see men's work as "productive" and contributing the family, while the social perception of female labor does not have that connotation. This also ties to the fact that it is easier for men in India to get high paying jobs and provide financially for their families. Women need increased access to education and economic resources in order to reach that level of gainful employment and change people's perceptions of daughters being financial liabilities. With this cost and benefit analysis, many families come to the conclusion that they must prioritize male children's lives over female lives in order to ensure their financial future.
Consequences of a declining sex ratio in Indian states
The following table presents the child sex ratio data for India's states and union territories, according to 2011 Census of India for population count in the 0-1 age group. The data suggests 18 states/UT had birth sex ratio higher than 107 implying excess males at birth and/or excess female mortalities after birth but before she reaches the age of 1, 13 states/UT had normal child sex ratios in the 0-1 age group, and 4 states/UT had birth sex ratio less than 103 implying excess females at birth and/or excess male mortalities after birth but before he reaches the age of 1.
|State / UT||Boys (0-1 age)|
|Girls (0-1 age)|
|Jammu and Kashmir||154,761||120,551||128.4|
|Daman and Diu||1,675||1,508||111.1|
|Dadra and Nagar Haveli||3,181||3,013||105.6|
|Andaman and Nicobar Islands||2,727||2,651||102.9|
Marriage Market and Importation of Brides
Classic economic theory views the market for marriage as one in which people bargain for a spouse who maximizes their utility gains from marriage. In India, many of these bargains actually take place within the family and therefore individual utility is replaced by family utility. In this marriage market, men and their families are trying to maximize their utility, which creates a supply and demand for wives. However, female foeticide and a high sex ratio have high implications for this market. Dharma Kumar, argues that, "Sex selection at conception will reduce the supply of women, they will become more valuable, and female children will be better cared for and will live longer". In the graph, this is depicted by the leftward shift of the supply curve and the subsequent decrease in quantity of females from Q1 to Q2 and increase in their value from P1 to P2. However, this model does not work for the situation in India because it does not account for the common act of males importing brides from other regions. A low supply of women results in men and their families trafficking women from other areas and leads to increased sexual violence and abuse against women and children, increased child marriages, and increased maternal deaths due to forced abortions and early marriages. This ends up devaluing women instead of the presumed effect of increasing their value.
In the graph, the supply of brides outside each village, locality, or region is depicted as 'supply foreign'. This foreign supply values the price of getting a wife at much cheaper than the first domestic price P1 and the second domestic price P2. Therefore, due to the decrease of women domestically due to sex selection and the low price of foreign women (because they are often bought as slaves or kidnapped), the resulting gap of imported women is from Q3 to Q4. Women act like imports in an international trade market if the import price is lower than the high price of domestic dowries with a low supply of women. The foreign price is lower than the market price and this results in even fewer domestic brides than without importation (Q3 instead of Q2). In turn, this creates a self fulfilling cycle of limiting females domestically and continually importing them and there is no end to the cycle of female feticide if these acts can continue and importation is an option.
The imported brides are known as "paros" and are treated like slaves because they have no cultural, regional, or familial ties to their husbands before being brought into their homes. One of the field studies in Haryana revealed that more than 9000 married women are bought from other Indian states as imported brides. This act also results in wife sharing and polyandry by family members in some areas of Haryana, Rajasthan, and Punjab, which maintains the gender imbalance if one family can make do with only one female. For example, the polyandries Toda of Nilgiri Hills in southern India practiced female infanticide in order to maintain a certain demographic imbalance.
Negative spillovers of pre-natal sex selection and female foeticide
When families choose to partake in pre-natal sex selection through illegal ultrasounds or abortions, they impart a negative spillover on society. These include increased gender disparity, a high sex ratio, lives lost, lack of development, and abuse and violence against women and children. Families do not often keep this spillover in mind and this results in sex selection and female foeticide, which hurts society as a whole .
Empirical study on male/female child mortality
A study by Satish B. Agnihotri infers the gender bias in India by studying the relationship between male and female infant and child mortality rates in the face of mortality as a whole looking like it is decreasing. Hypothetically, if males and females are identical, then there should be no difference in mortality rates and no gender gap. However, male and female children are perceived as psychologically and socially different so the equation relating mortality looks like this: MRf = a + b*MRm. MRf is female child mortality, a is residual female mortality when male mortality is 0, the slope b shows the rate of decline in female mortality for a decline in male mortality, and MRm is male mortality. In India, the infant mortality equation for 1982-1997 was IMRf = 6.5 + 0.93* IMRm, which shows that there is a high level of residual female mortality and male mortality declines slightly faster than female mortality. The author then breaks down the information by states and rural or urban population. Many states, like Haryana, that are known for high levels of female mortality have slopes greater than 1, which seems counterintuitive. However, this actually goes to show that pre-natal selection may reduce the extent of infanticide or poor treatment of girls who are born. It has a substitution effect on the post-natal discrimination and replaces its effects instead of adding to it. Additionally, urban households usually have a high constant term and a low slope. This shows that simply reducing mortality may not result in a subsequent reduction of female mortality. This research goes to show the extent of gender discrimination in India and how this affects the high sex ratio. It is important to not only target mortality, but specifically female mortality if there is to be any change in gender disparities.
Laws and regulations
India passed its first abortion-related law, the so-called Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971, making abortion legal in most states, but specified legally acceptable reasons for abortion such as medical risk to mother and rape. The law also established physicians who can legally provide the procedure and the facilities where abortions can be performed, but did not anticipate female foeticide based on technology advances. With increasing availability of sex screening technologies in India through the 1980s in urban India, and claims of its misuse, the Government of India passed the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT) in 1994. This law was further amended into the Pre-Conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act in 2004 to deter and punish prenatal sex screening and female foeticide. However, there are concerns that PCPNDT Act has been poorly enforced by authorities.
The impact of Indian laws on female foeticide and its enforcement is unclear. United Nations Population Fund and India's National Human Rights Commission, in 2009, asked the Government of India to assess the impact of the law. The Public Health Foundation of India, an premier research organization in its 2010 report, claimed a lack of awareness about the Act in parts of India, inactive role of the Appropriate Authorities, ambiguity among some clinics that offer prenatal care services, and the role of a few medical practitioners in disregarding the law. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India has targeted education and media advertisements to reach clinics and medical professionals to increase awareness. The Indian Medical Association has undertaken efforts to prevent prenatal sex selection by giving its members Beti Bachao (save the daughter) badges during its meetings and conferences. However, a recent study by Nandi and Deolalikar (2013) argues that the 1994 PNDT Act may have had a small impact by preventing 106,000 female foeticides over one decade.
According to a 2007 study by MacPherson, prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT Act) was highly publicized by NGOs and the government. Many of the ads used depicted abortion as violent, creating fear of abortion itself within the population. The ads focused on the religious and moral shame associated with abortion. MacPherson claims this media campaign was not effective because some perceived this as an attack on their character, leading to many becoming closed off, rather than opening a dialogue about the issue. This emphasis on morality, claims MacPherson, increased fear and shame associated with all abortions, leading to an increase in unsafe abortions in India.
The government of India, in a 2011 report, has begun better educating all stakeholders about its MTP and PCPNDT laws. In its communication campaigns, it is clearing up public misconceptions by emphasizing that sex determination is illegal, but abortion is legal for certain medical conditions in India. The government is also supporting implementation of programs and initiatives that seek to reduce gender discrimination, including media campaign to address the underlying social causes of sex selection.
Given the dismal Child Sex Ratio in the country, and the Supreme Court directive of 2003 to State governments to enforce the law banning the use of sex determination technologies, the Ministry set up a National Inspection and Monitoring Committee (NIMC). Dr. Rattan Chand, Director (PNDT) was made the convenor of the NIMC. The NIMC under the guidance of Dr. Rattan Chand conducted raids in some of the districts in Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Gujarat. In April, it conducted raids on three clinics in Delhi. In its reports sent to the Chief Secretaries of the respective States, the committee observed that the Authorities had failed to monitor or supervise the registered clinics.
Laws passed in India to alleviate female foeticide
|Other Legislation||Year Passed||Goals|
|Dowry Prohibition Act||1961||Prohibits families from taking a dowry, punishible with imprisonment|
|Hindu Marriage Act||1955||Rules around marriage and divorce for Hindus|
|Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act||1956||Deals with the legal process of adopting children and the legal obligation to provide "maintenance" for other family members|
|Immoral Traffic Prevention Act||1986||Stops sex trafficking and exploitation|
|Equal Remuneration Act||1976||Prevents monetary discrimination between men and women in the workforce|
|Female Infanticide Act||1870||Prevents female infanticide (Act passed in British India)|
|Ban on ultrasound testing||1996||Bans prenatal sex determination|
Central and state government schemes to alleviate female foeticide and child mortality
Other recent policy initiatives adopted by many states of India, claims Guilmoto, attempt to address the assumed economic disadvantage of girls by offering support to girls and their parents. These policies provide conditional cash transfer and scholarships only available to girls, where payments to a girl and her parents are linked to each stage of her life, such as when she is born, completion of her childhood immunization, her joining school at grade 1, her completing school grades 6, 9 and 12, her marriage past age 21. Some states are offering higher pension benefits to parents who raise one or two girls. Different states of India have been experimenting with various innovations in their girl-driven welfare policies. For example, the state of Delhi adopted a pro-girl policy initiative (locally called Laadli scheme), which initial data suggests may be lowering the birth sex ratio in the state.These types of government programs and schemes are a type of redistribution in an attempt to further development in the country. The central and state governments in India have noticed the country's failure to deal with female foeticide on its own and have come up with programs to deal with the problem at hand.
A serious flaw that makes all of these programs ineffective is that they target only lower-income households, while ignoring the population of higher-income households also partaking in female foeticide. Sex determination tests and sex selective abortions are prevalent more amongst affluent families. For example, upper-class families in Haryana have high rates of feticide and infanticide and the programs do not target these families. A study in Haryana found that the sex ratio at birth for upper caste women was 127 males for 100 females, compared with 102 with lower caste women. While cash transfers successfully improve school enrollment and immunization rates for girls, they do not directly address parent’s demand for sons and gender-biased sex selection. Additionally, a study conducted by Bijayalaxmi Nanda, an associate professor of political science at Delhi University, found that many of the beneficiaries of the Delhi Ladli Scheme wanted to use the money received for marriage rather than educational expenses. Another problem with these government conditional cash transfers is that many of them only target the first two daughters in a family and have no incentive for families to have more than two daughters. These non-linear incentive models do not result in the same increase in benefits as the inputs and cash transfers put in by the government. Additionally, they only incentivize a change in behavior until an age, educational, number of daughters threshold and do not prompt people to act beyond these guidelines.
Select Schemes by the Central and State Governments
|Program||Year Passed||Central or State Government||Benefits|
|Balika Samriddhi Yojana||1997||Central Government||Cash transfer to mother based on child meeting educational conditions and partaking in income generating activities|
|Dhan Laxmi Scheme||2008||Central Government||Cash transfers to family after meeting conditions (immunization, education, insurance)|
|Kanya Jagriti Jyoti Scheme||1996||Punjab||Cash transfers to 2 girl children in a family after meeting conditions (immunization, education, insurance)|
|Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana||2015||Central Government||Cash transfers based on educational attainment|
|National Plan of Action||1992||Central Government||For the survival, protection, and development of girl children. Goals include ending female feticide, reducing gender disparity, and giving girls better access to resources|
|Devirupak||2002||Haryana||Cash transfer to couple accepting terminal method of family planning (vasectomy, tubectomy) after birth of 1st or 2nd child|
|Delhi Ladli Scheme||2008||Delhi||Cash transfer based on educational attainment for first 2 daughters|
|Apni Beti Apna Dhan||1994||Haryana||Cash transfer if daughter reaches the age of 18 without being married|
|Girl Child Protection Scheme||2005||Andhra Pradesh||Cash transfer based on age and educational attainment. Family also has to partake in family planning|
|Beti Hai Anmol Scheme||2010||Himachal Pradesh||Interest earned on back account in daughter's name and cash scholarships for each year of school|
|Bhagya Laxmi Scheme||2007||Karnataka||Cash transfer based on age and educational attainment. Cash provided to families for natural death, health insurance, and scholarships|
|Mukhyamantri Kanya Suraksha Yojna and Mukhyamantri Kanya Vivah Yojna||2008||Bihar||Cash transfers to poor families with two daughters|
|Indra Gandhi Balika Suraksha Yojana||2007||Himachal Pradesh||Cash transfers based on age attainment|
|Ladli Laxami Yojna||2006||Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand||Cash transfers based on educational attainment|
|Rakshak Yojana||2005||Punjab||Cash monthly transfers for families with 2 girls|
|Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojna||2017||Madhya Pradesh||Cash transfer for marriage assistance if the family waits until the legal age to marry off their daughter|
|Sukanya Samriddhi Account||2015||Central Government||Interest earned on bank account opened for daughter after she turns 21|
Responses by others
Increasing awareness of the problem has led to multiple campaigns by celebrities and journalists to combat sex-selective abortions. Aamir Khan devoted the first episode "Daughters Are Precious" of his show Satyamev Jayate to raise awareness of this widespread practice, focusing primarily on Western Rajasthan, which is known to be one of the areas where this practice is common. Its sex ratio dropped to 883 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011 from 901 girls to 1000 boys in 2001. Rapid response was shown by local government in Rajasthan after the airing of this show, showing the effect of media and nationwide awareness on the issue. A vow was made by officials to set up fast-track courts to punish those who practice sex-based abortion. They cancelled the licences of six sonography centres and issued notices to over 20 others.
This has been done on the smaller scale. Cultural intervention has been addressed through theatre. Plays such as 'Pacha Mannu', which is about female infanticide/foeticide, has been produced by a women's theatre group in Tamil Nadu. This play was showing mostly in communities that practice female infanticide/foeticide and has led to a redefinition of a methodology of consciousness raising, opening up varied ways of understanding and subverting cultural expressions.
The Mumbai High Court ruled that prenatal sex determination implied female foeticide. Sex determination violated a woman's right to live and was against India's Constitution.
The Beti Bachao, or Save girls campaign, has been underway in many Indian communities since the early 2000s. The campaign uses the media to raise awareness of the gender disparities creating, and resulting from, sex-selective abortion. Beti Bachao activities include rallies, posters, short videos and television commercials, some of which are sponsored by state and local governments and other organisations. Many celebrities in India have publicly supported the Beti Bachao campaign.
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When we talk about the rights of the child, we talks about the rights of the person who may not even envisage those rights and who cannot fights for those rights. Therefore the rights of a child are exercised by proxy through the parents, family, society and State. Unfortunately, these very agencies are responsible for violating children’s rights.
Such violation may be in any form i.e discrimination, abuse, lack of parental care, lack of nutrition etc. One of the major concerns over child rights which is prevailing now a days is Discrimination against girls child.
The struggle for a girl child starts the day her existence is known in her mother’s womb. The fear and struggle to survive swallow most of the girl’s life even if she is ‘allowed’ to live in this cruel world.
Discrimination against girls begins in our very homes, ‘even before the girl child is born’. One of the most inhuman, uncivilized and reprehensible practices is the practice of female feticide. The patriarchal mindset and preference for male children is compounded by unethical conduct on the part of some medical practitioners assisted by unscrupulous parents who illegally offer sex determination services.
The present paper discusses the role of parents as a leader, a torchbearer, a mentor or a guide with love, care and understanding of the child to provide best protection, opportunities and assistance in order to ensure them the best future. This paper also discuss the female foeticide/ infanticide practice in India and concerning law to prevent such.
The right to life, survival and development and Female feticide
Article 6 of the CRC deals with the right to life. Female infanticide is the violation of them right to life. The right to life certainly includes survival issues such as shelter, food, safe water and medical care. The declining sex ratio in the country has sent shockwaves across all sections of society. It seems that the socio-economic factors are so embedded in the psyche of the people that they even accept wrong ways of life for the sake of economical superiority. It is not poverty alone that kills baby girls ‘ the choices made by her parents and family have a greater role to play in curtailing her life. Custom, tradition and economic values shape these choices and when resources are meager; these can make a difference between life and death. Significantly, microlevel studies have shown that baby girls are more likely to die in a family where there is no older male sibling, pointing to strong circumstantial evidence of discriminatory care.
Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) says, “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared by his or her parents.” Ironically, this aspect of child rights has been lost in translation in India where a large percentage of child births go unreported and where large numbers of female children are not even allowed to be born but are killed in the womb itself.
Female Foeticide : Death before birth
Female feticide is the selective abortion/elimination of the girl child in the womb itself, done deliberately by the mother, after the detection of the child’s gender through medical means. This is usually done under familial pressure from the husband or the in-laws or even the woman’s parents. Unplanned pregnancy is generally the reason behind abortion. However, female feticide is a far more heinous sin than the age old practice of killing an unwanted child, even before it’s born.
The concern for girl child, who is murdered because she is female, is of growing concern in contemporary society worldwide. This violation of a girl’s basic right to life requires urgent attention and action. Girl children are undesirable in many regions of the world. In fact, due to the high occurrence of foeticides, infanticides, including newborn neglect and abandonment, the world are currently deprived of over 100 million women. China and India alone are responsible for 80 million missing females.
Female Infanticide: Death just after birth
Another form of eliminating the girl child has been the practice of female infanticide. It is a deliberate and intentional act of killing a female child within one year of its birth either directly by using poisonous organic and inorganic chemicals or indirectly by deliberate neglect to feed the infant by either one of the parents or other family members or neighbours or by the midwife.
Kolloor defines infanticide as, ‘Killing of an entirely dependent child under ‘one year of age’ who is killed by mother, parents or others in whose care the child is entrusted’. It is unfortunate that the parents also view her as a liability. This attitude is rooted in a complex set of social, cultural, and economic factors. It is the dowry system, lack of economic independence, social customs and traditions that have relegated the female to a secondary status. Poverty, ignorance of family planning, cost of dowry, etc. have been reported as the possible causes for this crime.
The law on infanticide entered into the National legal framework. called Indian Penal Code. Infanticide is one form of homicide, attracting the application of Section 299 or 300 IPC. Section 317 of the Code also controls this crime. According to this provision, ‘whoever being father or mother of child under the age of 12 years, or having the care of such child, shall expose or leave such child in any place with the intention of wholly abandoning such child, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend seven years or with fine or both’. Section 318 further states that, by secretly burying or otherwise disposing of the dead body of a child whether such child die before, after or during its birth, the person who intentionally conceals or endeavours to conceal the birth of such child is punishable with imprisonment for two years or with a fine or with both.
Major Causes of Female Feticides/ Infanticide
Preference for the male child:
Elimination/removal of girls from the family tree even before they are born clearly indicates the vehement desire for a boy child. In the countries where female feticide has become unbridled, the core factor is the need to continue the family line through the male born into it. Sons are seen as the main source of income. Even though women today can easily rub shoulders with men, almost in every field they set their mind to, the common misconception still remains that it is the male who will help run the house, and look after his parents. Once married, women are like cargo, ready to be shipped off to another household, while parents breathe a sigh of relief for a job well done in getting their ‘daughter’ settled.
In India, the age old custom of dowry system puts a damper on the parents’ spirits who are ‘blessed’ with a girl child. Right then and there, begin the calculations associated with marriage expenses, which may happen after a couple of decades, following the child’s first breath. A lump sum paid to the daughter in twenty years when the currency value may depreciate and inflation may skyrocket is seen as a tragedy waiting to happen. It would be so much better to get rid of them with just a fraction of the amount.
Deteriorated Status of Women:
Sure, males are the stronger sex when it comes to the pecking order in a country, but that does not entail a curbing of rights for women. Rather than whining about the denied opportunities, women should stand up and try to grasp the chances they want for themselves.
However, this Utopian scenario is not quite easily achieved in practice. Centuries of repression has made inferiority second nature to most women. They willingly embrace the role of the meek, submissive, docile wife who works relentlessly to cater to the whims of her husband. The worst enemy of a woman is the woman herself. Female feticide happens with the explicit consent of the mother. While most mothers-to be agree to this misdeed out of a sense of duty to the family, there are many who take the initiative themselves.
Foul Medical Ethics:
With the legalization of abortion in India, illegal sex determination and termination of pregnancies has become an everyday reality. The professionals in the medical field are only too glad to help parents realize their dream of a healthy baby boy. Female feticide is openly discussed amongst many in the healing fraternity and even pin boards outside certain clinics read, ‘Pay Rs.500 today to save the expense of Rs. 500 000 in the future’. The initial meager sum is the cost of a pregnancy termination, while the bigger amount specified in comparison, is the expense that the family will be burdened with in the form of dowry for the girl.
Industrialization of the health sector has further strengthened the selective sex abortion quarter. With the advent of CVS, amniocentesis and Ultrasound, sex determination of the fetus has become much easier than it was earlier. This goes on to show how the manufacturers of high-tech equipments and gadgets, used to run these tests, benefit from the woes of future parents and their unborn child. Many hospitals are known to sign long term contracts with the firms involved in the production of these types of medical machinery. Often, a healthy percentage of the profit is shared with the hospital and both parties enjoy the fruits of rewarding a death sentence.
As opposed to CVS and amniocentesis, the ultrasound technology is cheaper and within easy reach of the lower economically backward strata of society. It is also easily accessible in a hospital/clinic nearby with mediocre credentials. Unfortunately, the probability of accuracy of the ultrasound is not always 100 per cent until the fetus is twenty weeks old. Consequently, the child aborted by those enthusiastic parents may just be the little prince they were hoping for.
Effect of Female Foeticide/Infanticide
As Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’, the after effects of this genocide are fatal and far-reaching. Blinded by the need for an assertive gender to rule the house after the parents’ demise, the majority are often ignorant of the disaster they unwittingly invite by indulging in female feticide.
Skewed Sex Ratio:
In India, the number of girls per 1000 boys is declining with each passing decade. From 962 and 945 girls for every 1000 boys in the years 1981 and 1991 respectively, the sex ratio had plummeted to an all time low of 927 girls for 1000 boys in 2001. If that statistic is a matter of concern, the current figures are toeing the danger line with only 914 girls for 1000 boys in 2011. In the case of China, the sex ratio is an alarming 118 boys for 100 girls; that means 848 girls for 1000 boys. This is just an example of two nations trapped in the vicious circle. There are many others struggling with a skewed sex ratio.
Is an imbalance in the number of females a truly worrying matter?
Yes, indeed. Sex ratio is merely a microscopic view of the number of both genders. However, when calculated for the entire population, this clearly indicates the widespread disparity. This disparity may prove critical for the country’s development in political, economic and emotional spheres.
The steep decline in the number of girls makes them scarce for the teaming number of males eligible for marriage. As a solution to this issue, illegal trafficking of women has become commonplace in many regions. This is a graver matter than the ideology of mail order brides. Women, often young girls who’ve just crossed the threshold of puberty, are compelled to marry for a price fixed by the groom-to be. They are usually bought in from neighboring areas, where the number of girls might not be as miniscule as the host region. Child marriages become a rage and child pregnancies, a devastating consequence. The moment when a land participates in the trade off of its women population, it is a sure path laid ahead with pitfalls.
Increase in Rape and Assault:
Once women become an endangered species, it is only a matter of time before the instances of rape, assault and violence become widespread. In the backdrop of fewer available females, the surviving ones will be faced with the reality of handling a society driven by a testosterone high. The legal system may offer protection, but as is the situation today, many cases might not even surface for fear of isolation and humiliation on the girl’s part.
With no mothers or wombs to bear any child (male or female), there would be fewer births, leading to a decline in the country’s population. Though a control in the demographic statistics is currently the goal of many nations like China and India, a total wipeout of one sex is not the way to achieve this target. Science would then have to look up solutions to do away with the swarming number of men, should such a worst case scenario happen.
Female Feticide and concerning laws
Code of Medical Ethics
Constituted by the Indian Parliament in the Medical Council Act, 1956, the relevant section of the Code of Medical Ethics states:
On no account, sex determination test shall be undertaken with the intent to terminate the life of a female foetus developing in her mother’s womb, unless there are other absolute indications for termination of pregnancy as specified in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. Any act of termination of pregnancy of normal female foetus, amounting to female foeticide, shall be regarded as professional misconduct on the part of the physician leading to penal erasure besides rendering him liable to criminal proceedings as per the provisions of this Act (Clause 7.6). It is here important to note that the penalty for unindicated sex determination and female foeticide is striking off the name from the register apart from criminal action.
Indian Penal Code
Until 1970 the provisions contained in the Indian Penal Code (IPC ) governed the law on abortion. The Indian Penal Code 1860 permitted ‘legal abortions’ did without criminal intent and in good faith for the express purpose of saving the life of the mother.
Sections 312-316 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deal with miscarriage and death of an unborn child and depending on the severity and intention with which the crime is committed, the penalties range from seven years to life imprisonment for fourteen years and fine.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
Liberalization of abortion laws was also advocated as one of the measures of population control. With these considerations, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed in July 1971, which came into force in April 1972. This law was conceived as a tool to let the pregnant women decide on the number and frequency of children. It further gave them the right to decide on having or not having the child.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 had been enacted as a health measure for women; it was later, modified in 1975 to permit abortions under the following conditions:
- The pregnant woman has a serious medical disease or condition that would endanger her life if the pregnancy were to continue.
- Continuation of pregnancy would entail a substantial risk of physical and mental handicap to the newborn child.
- The pregnancy resulted from rape.
- The socio-economic circumstances of the mother would endanger the health of the newborn child.
- The pregnancy occurred because of failure of a contraceptive method.
An Act of this kind, no doubt, made abortion legally permissible and available on demand subject to qualifying under any of the stated criteria. However, this good intentioned step was being used to force women to abort the female child. Despite this legalisation, a major proportion of induced abortions effected were illegal. In order to do away with lacunae inherent in previous legislation, the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act had to be passed in 1994, which came into force in January 1996. The Act prohibited determination of sex of the foetus and stated punishment for the violation of the provisions. It also provided for mandatory registration of genetic counselling centres, clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.
Thus both these laws were meant to protect the childbearing function of the woman and legitimise the purpose for which pre-natal tests and abortions could be carried out. However, in practice we find that these provisions have been misused and are proving against the interest of the females.
Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994
In order to do away with lacunae inherent in The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act had to be passed in 1994, which came into force in January 1996. The Act prohibited determination of sex of the foetus and stated punishment for the violation of the provisions. It also provided for mandatory registration of genetic counselling centres, clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.
In the light of new techniques available to determine sex before conception, it was felt necessary to amend the Act. With the result, the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Act, 2002, came into force. Originally, there was a Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994, but due to the prevalence of pre-conception diagnosis, a newer law was put in order. Also the PNDT Act 1994 was renamed as the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.
Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques
Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques means use of the diagnostic techniques before the birth of a child on a pregnant woman for the purpose of determining of sex of the foetus.
Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques include
- Taking samples of amniotic fluid, embryo, blood or any tissue or fluid of pregnant women before or after conception,
- Testing samples in Genetic Laboratory to detect genetic disorders, abnormalities or sex-linked diseases
Section 4 of the Act provides for those circumstances under which the pre-natal diagnostic may be done. Other than this exception all other activities would come under the ambit of an offence and shall be punishable under this Act.
According to Sec. 4 (2), PNDT can be used for detection of abnormalities:
- Chromosomal Abnormalities
- Genetic Metabolic Diseases
- Sex-linked genetic diseases
- Congenital abnormalities
- Any other abnormalities
According to Sec. 4 (3), PNDT can be conducted only in following conditions:
- Age of pregnant women is above 35 years
- Two or more spontaneous abortions
- Pregnant women has been exposed to drugs, radiation, infection or chemicals
- Family history of mental retardation or physical deformities
- Any other condition
According to Sec. 5 of the Act, no person including the person conducting pre-natal diagnostic procedures shall communicate to the pregnant woman concerned or her relatives or any other person the sex of the foetus by words, signs or in any other manner. Determination of sex is also prohibited under Sec. 6 of Act. Husbands and relatives cannot ask or encourage pre-natal diagnostic techniques expect for reasons permitted under law.
The major prohibitions under the PC-P.N.D.T Act are-
- Prohibition of sex selection ,before and after conception(section 3A) ‘ Sec. 3A of the Act state that No person, including a specialist or a team of specialists in the field of infertility, shall conduct or cause to be conducted or aid in conducting by himself or by any other person, sex selection on a woman or a man or on both or on any tissue, embryo, conceptus, fluid, or gametes derived from either or both of them.
- Prohibition on sale of ultrasound machine, etc. (section 3B)
According to Section 3B of Act, no person shall sell any ultrasound machine or imaging machine or scanner or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of foetus to any Genetic counseling center, Genetic clinic, and Genetic Laboratory or any other person not registered under this act.
- Prohibition of advertisement of any technique for sex selection as well as sex determination (Sec 22 of the Act)
Punishment for violation of provisions of Act (Sec. 23)
1. For a doctor or medical person who misuses these techniques for sex selection:
- 3 years imprisonment and/or fine up to Rs 10,000 for first conviction. Suspension of Registration by the Medical Council for 5 years for first offence.
- For subsequent offence, 5 years imprisonment and/or fine Rs 50,000. Permanent removal for subsequent breaches.
2. Persons seeking to know the sex of the fetus:
- 3 years imprisonment and/or fine Rs 50,000 for the first offence
- For subsequent offence, 5 years imprisonment and/or fine Rs 1,00,000. The pregnant woman herself is considered innocent under the Act, unless and until proved otherwise. It is presumed that she will have been compelled to undergo sex determination tests by her husband and relatives
3. Persons connected with advertising of sex selection/ sex determination services:
- 3 years imprisonment and/or a fine of Rs 10,000 with additional fine for continuing contravention at the rate of Rs 500 per day
According to Sec. 27, Offence to be cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable
Amendment in 2003
Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), was amended in 2003 to The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.
Implications of the amendment are :
- Amendment of the act mainly covered bringing the technique of pre conception sex selection within the ambit of the act
- Bringing ultrasound within its ambit
- Empowering the central supervisory board, constitution of state level supervisory board
- Provision for more stringent punishments
- Empowering appropriate authorities with the power of civil court for search, seizure and sealing the machines and equipments of the violators
- Regulating the sale of the ultrasound machines only to registered bodies
- Constitutionality of the Act
Female foeticide is against the fundamental right to equality and freedom from gender based biased under the Indian Constitution.
In the case Vinod Soni and another v. Union of India the appellant challenged the constitutional validity of the PC and PNDT Act, 1994 and said that it is against the Art.14 and 21. The court held that the Right under the Art. 21 cannot include right to selection of sex whether pre-conception or post-conception. The art.21 is now said to govern and hold that it is a right of every child to full development .The enactment namely PC and PNDT Act, 1994 is factually enacted to further their right under art.21 which give to every child right to full development. A child conceived is therefore entitled to under art.21 as held by the SC, to full development whatever be the sex of that child. The determination, whether at pre conception stage or otherwise is denial of a child, the right to expansion, or if it can be so expanded right to come into existence.
In the case Allied Themes [CEHAT] And others v. Union of India the petitioner prayed inter alia that as the Pre-natal diagnostic techniques contravene the provisions of the PNDT Act, 1994 the Central government and the State government be directed to implement the provisions of the PNDT Act
[a.] by appointing appropriate authorities at State and District levels and the Advisory committees;
[b.] the Central government are directed to ensure that Central Supervisory Board meets every 6 months as provided under the PNDT Act; and
[c.] for banning of all advertisements of pre natal sex selection including all other sex determination techniques which can be abused to selectively produce only boys either before or during pregnancy.
After filing of this petition, notices were issued and thereafter various orders from time to time passed to see that the Act is effectively implemented.
Rate of Conviction
The Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994
was passed in 1996 to stop female foeticide. A total of 1833 cases are registered under this act since it was implemented, including only 563 in Rajasthan. Only 65 licenses have been cancelled so far under this act. 143 people have been punished under this act since its enactment.
Above data is provided by Former Union Minister of Health, Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad in a written reply to Rajya sabha on 13 Dec, 2013.
Why the low rate of conviction under PNDT Act?
- Most cases are for incomplete or erroneous documentation
- Most often the offenders carrying out sex determination and abortion are never brought to the book at all.
- There are few or no ‘sting’ operations carried out by PNDT officials
- The Collector is already handling numerous administrative issues besides PNDT.
Other Major Legislations
Besides having specific legislation and policy proclamations to deal with this menace, the precipitating factors such as dowry, poverty, and woman’s economic dependence etc., leading to the problem of foeticide and infanticide have been addressed by enacting various legislations as:
- Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961(Amended in 1986);
- Hindu Marriage Act, 1955;
- Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956;
- Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1986
- Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 etc.
These and various other legislations and policy proclamations intend to bring about women’s economic and social empowerment to the maximum and it is hoped that such measures would equip women to exercise their rights.
Areas of Concern
Effective implementation of PCPNDT needs to be assured through, ensuring registration, curbing the spread of mobile ultrasound, regulating sale of new machines; ensuring compliance of the Act like keeping records and submitting them to the authorities in time, preferably online like the birth records are being done now; monitoring the functioning of these ultrasound clinics, complete audit of all pregnancy ultrasounds across the country (audit all F forms submitted).
Another problem is that the appropriate authorities don’t know their functions and responsibilities. Appropriate authorities do not have the necessary expertise and experience in legal matters. Deputing of medical professionals, or regulatory bodies under the PNDT Act, has not been an effective way to check the practice of sex determination, as doctors tend to be reluctant to book their fellow doctors.
Lack of adequate medical facilities is leading to increasing reach of private health service providers, whose practices are difficult to monitor.
1) PCPNDT Act is silent about punishment for parents who are also equally participate in such heinous act. Therefore parents who are involved in this act should be fined with high cash amount and sent to the jail for a minimum of 5 years. An immediate amendment in PCPNDT Act is need of hour.
2) Cancellation/permanent termination of the doctor’s license who partakes in fulfilling a client’s demand to do away with her girl child.
3) Heavy penalty imposed on companies like GE, that specialize in marketing medical equipments used for illegal sex determination and abortion in unlicensed clinics and hospitals.
4) High fines and judicial action against ‘parents’ who knowingly try to kill their unborn baby.
5) Sex selective abortion have a bad effect on the health of the women ‘ should be conveyed to the people through media.
6) Efforts and provisions should be made to provide social security to parents who are above 65 years of age and have only daughters. They should be provided with old age pension if they do not have a son.
7) Provide extra incentives for families that have more than one girl child. This will help correct the gender balance in a few years.
8) Women empowerment may be the solution of the problem. Empowerment of women would make them less dependent and she would not be a burden on the family. Empowerment would enable her to fight with the negative social norms of marriage and life.
9) Educating the masses would solve the problem and it would lead to a widening of thoughts. There should be awareness programme for people and public debate on this.
10) There need a co-relation between laws relating or supplement to each other.
11) Dowry prohibition Act should be implemented effectively.
12) Reaching the masses through religious/spiritual leaders keeping in mind the vast multitudes that India’s religious and spirituals leaders reach out to get them involved in spreading awareness on the issue of sex selection.
It can be concluded that It is said that God created mothers because He could not be present everywhere. It is unbelievable to realize that a God’s representative is continuously killing someone beautiful even before she can come out and see the beauty of nature. Female foeticide is approved under one pretext or the other. It will not be enough to counter son-preference. Aversion to daughters has to be squarely confronted through policy measures that increase the economic worth and support of daughters through improved employment opportunities and recognizing that women’s health and education is tied to more than the mothering roles.
The evil of foeticide is not just restricted to economically backward classes. It is, infact, the prosperous and the well-off families. Evidence indicates that the problem of female foeticide and infanticide is more prevalent in orthodox families. It is, therefore, essential that these socio cultural factors be tackled by changing the thought process through awareness generation, mass appeal and social action. In addition to this all concerned i.e. the religious and social leaders, voluntary organizations, 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. It is possible for each one of us to do something, right now, to ensure that India does not become the mother of only boys that India’s daughters are not denied the right to live. Change is possible, change is in our hands.
‘Where women are honored
there Gods are pleased;
But where they are not honored
no sacred rite yields rewards.’
– Laws of Manu