MISSING GIRLS: THE CATASTROPHE OF FEMALE FOETICIDE IN INDIA
– Surbhi Singh*
This paper seeks to explain some of the worst gender ratios, indicating gross violation of women’s right. The killing of women exists in various forms in Indian society, some of unique and particularly brutal versions, such as Dowry Deaths, female foeticide and Sati.
Sex Selective abortions are an extreme manifestation of violence against female. Female Foetuses are selective aborted after pre- natal sex determination, thus avoiding the birth of girls. As a result of selective abortions, about 45 million girls are missing from Indian population. No moral or ethical principle supports such a vicious action for gender identification. The situation is further worsened by a lack of awareness about women’s right and by the indifferent attitude of Government and medical professionals. In India the available legislation for prevention of sex determination needs strict implementation, along side launching of programmes aimed at altering attitudes, including those prevalent in medical fraternity and in society.
India is one of the few countries where the overallsex ratio has been unfavorable to females. In 1997 UNPFA report “India towards population and developmentgoals”, estimates that 48 millions women were’missing’ from Indian population.According to population survey reports, the sex ratio is 933 in 2001, as against 972 in 1901. The disparity in the ratio is more severe in Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. The child sex ratio (CSR) in India has also been indicative of a negative trend towards girl child for decades now. The sharp decline in CSR from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 as brought forth by the 2001 census hit the public eye. “Female foeticide is an extreme manifestation of violenceagainst women.Female foetuses areselectively aborted. Sociologists have speculated that such an imbalance would lead to greater incidence of rape, sharing ofwomen within and outside wedlock,abductions, and in reducing women’s freedom and mobility.
In the Indian patriarchal setup, it became sadly an acceptable practice. There may be many reasons for the occurrence of female foeticide. Girls are often seen as a burden because they have to be protected and need large sums of money for weddingdowries.Higherthe dowry, betterare the chances ofa girlgetting married. Of course,an unmarried girl is a blot on a family’s honor. Some people say they need boys to carry on the family line, whereas girls leave to join their husband’s families. Others say a father needs a son to light his funeral pyrewhen he dies. Girls don’t propagate family name and neither does the family property stay in the same family. More over girls are consider as a consumer rather than producer. Daughters were assumed unable to provide socialsecurity to parents even in old ages, so she is assumed as “unnecessary investment” the fruits of which were taken away by in-laws. Thus, it could be said that the occurrence of female foeticide arises out of thepatriarchalsetup,the stereotypingof gender roles and the distribution of power, realor apparent, in society.
Following such ideology, the fairer sex has suffered at the hands of men. The irony of the whole situation is that with the availability of ultrasonography, amniocentesis, trans-veginal sonography, erision method (In vitro fertilization)etc; themodern civilized world received new sophisticated and advanced methods for suppression of females.
But the realproblem is that, the decline in the sex ratio willplay chaos not only India’s population stabilisation programme, which requires a balanced gender ratio and a limit on the number of children born every year,butalso with thepopulation composition in comingtimes.American President BARACK OBAMA1 quoted “The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women. If it’s educating its girls, if women have equalrights, that country is going to move forward. But if women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then they’re going to fall behind…” Similarly we can say the peril of declining sex ratio is one of the greatest threats to our contemporary civilization.The imbalance between men and women is leadingto many crimes such as:
1. Declining Women’s health : Many women suffer from psychological strain as a result of forcibly under going repeated abortion. “Women prefer sons, as it is often the only way to increase their status in the otherwise subordinate life.” They have even higher chances of being abused and neglected by their husbands and families,once they cannot conceiveand haven’t even produced a son.
2. Illegal trafficking of women : Many young girls are up for sale, resale as sex slaves in several villages. But it’s not prostitution in the exact sense; most of the girls arebeing passed on from one buyer to another for personal “use”.By coincidence or otherwise, most belong to backward communities. Some are abducted or bought from elsewhere, even other states, and sold to rich farmers who resell them to buy new arrivals.
3. Babies Killed, Brides Bought (Polygamy) : Skewed sex ratio makes shortage ofbride in marriage market. The Hindustan Times Reported that young girls from Assam and West Bengal are Kidnapped and sold in to marriage in neighboring Haryana, where they got married to one brother but forced to live as wife of allother brothers too, because they can not afford to purchase bride for all brothers.
4. Women will be more likely exploited as sex worker, increase in molestation and rape is obvious results.
5. Violence amongst men : With a lack of proper family institution at home, men bound to resort to destructive means to expend their energy, when they are not busy in making money or in beating women they bought.
6. Genetoplasty : This shocking unprecedent trend, catering to fetish for a son, is unfolding at conservative wellknown clinics & hospitals on children who are 1-5 years old2. The process being used to ‘produce’ a male child from a female is known as Genetoplasty. Each surgery costs Rs. 1.25 / lakh. Grown up individualwillbeinfertile but not impotent.
According to latest Government figures, rich families in posh areas of the country’s metropolises are usually indulging in female foeticide to fulfill their quest for a male child. Providing proof that Education, exposure and affluence have not brought values such as equality…It can now be safely accepted that high-income families with increased access to techniques ofsex determination are theones which are going in for selective abortions rather than the low-income group areas, And that’s why I would like to contextualize the bleak state of girls through a poem-Where have all the missing girls gone? By Zoya Zaidi.3 :-
Where have all the missing girls gone?
Gone! ‘Gone, to the grave yard’!
She missed the bus, while being born:
They pulled her back, Wrung her neck,
and Threw her into the Trashcan!
Where have all the missing girls gone?
Gone! ‘Gone, to the Trashcan!
She missed the bus to the school, Her brother got on…
But she had flour, Vegetables, rice and spice,
She cooked the food!
She missed the bus; when she sat down to eat:
Her father and brother ate up all!
The crumbs were all she got…
But she had a broom, A mop, a wiper:
She swept and wiped the floor,
Cleaned off, her own blood!
Whatever was left Her tears washed-up!
She missed the bus to ‘college’too
She was ‘married’, Already with a child or two!
She got the bus to market too:
She was sold for a thousand or two!
Again and again…
She got on the bus to Hell too!
Where have all the missing girls gone?
Gone! ‘Gone, gone to ‘Hell Gate’!
Then one-day technology came:
What a boon! Shot to fame!
Now we can ‘do the job’!
Without a clue!
Oh! So easy:
Just a scan!
And then, the forceps &
‘Sound’, & whirring of
The ‘job’ is done!!
In a minute or two…
No evidence left behind
Oh! What a find!
(This USG4 is just divine!!)
All is thrown into the ‘Dustbin’,
Who can say?
There ever was
A ‘Girl’ Missing ‘!!
Where have all the missing girls gone?
Gone! ‘Gone, to the dustbins’!
Where have all the missing girls gone?
Gone! ‘Gone, gone…’
The recent study has reported that India has lost 10 million girls over the last two decades. And the irony of the whole situation is that in the 10 years since India enacted the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technologies (PNDT) Act, not a single person was convicted till the beginning of April 2006. In the year 2006 there was first conviction. In which a Doctor and a Lab technician were sentenced to two year of imprisonment under the Act. Only 235 cases have been registered under this Act so far.Now the question arises is judiciary serious about checking this heinous practice of female foeticide? So one can make a glance over some of worth mentioning cases decided in this regard. In response to the PIL In CEHAT, MAUSAM & Dr. Sabu George v. Union of India & Ors6 , the court issued notices to the Central and State Governments to appoint appropriate authorities at District and sub-District level. Directions stated that the list of the members appointed should be published in the print and electronic media.
Appropriate authorities were further directed to send a quarterly report to the central supervisory board. Again in Dr. Aniruddha Malpani v. Dr. Jaywant Anant Khandare7, Bombay HC-hon’ble court Orders to issue notification in the officialgazetteappointing the MedicalOfficer as theAppropriate Authority. In Dr. Varsha Gautam v. State of U.P.8–The Court further held that Sex determination includes not only determination of the sex, but also includes anything done from fertilization untilbirth, which increases the probability that the embryo will be of a particular sex. Therefore, sex selection cannot only be confined to the determination of thesex of the fetus.
Thus cases reveal that the court has been closely monitoring the implementation of its various orders passed since enactment of act in 1994. Even than Anecdotalevidence suggests that sex selecting clinics and the abortion of girls are still wide spread. The reason behind it is that the judicial officials & legal professionals are not equipped with required knowledge of the PC & PNDTAct and they lack sensitivity towards gender equality. Moreover officials admit that it is hard to find evidence; because Pre-natal scans to check abnormalities are legal and it is impossible to prove that a doctor has in fact used one to reveal baby’s sex. So in this matter Sting operations can help a lot to reveal truth.
However, doubts are bound to be raised on the effectiveness of the precedents alone to the issue which mainly narrate to people’s attitudes and preferences. And to combat with this malady (Female foeticide), through misuse oftechnology, followingActs can be referred:
• Convention on the Rights of Child9
• Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women
• Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act & Rules, 1971
• The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act & Rules, 1994
Until1970, Abortion was punishable in Indian Penal Code10. But later it was legalized with passing MedicalTermination ofPregnancy (MTP) Act11, 1971. It permitted abortion on grounds of –
• Health (Danger to life or risk to physical or mental health of women.)
• Humanitarian Ground, Such as when pregnancy arises from a sex crime like rape or from intercourse with a lunatic woman.
• Contraceptive Failure.
• Eugenic, where there is substantialrisk that child, if born would suffered from deformities and diseases.
This Law was considered as a tool; that let the pregnantwomen decide on having or not having the child. However, this good intention step was being used to abort femalechild .In order to do away with lacunae inherent in previous legislation; the Government of India passed the Pre-natalDiagnosticTechniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act on September 20, 1994. The implementation of this Act was slow. It was later amended and replaced in 2003 to improve Regulation of Sex Selection Technology and to hold the decline in the child sex ratio as revealed by the Census 2001.Now due to the amendment, the Act is known as the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, without ever having been properly implemented. The main purpose of enacting the PC&PNDT (prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 has precisely said to 3P’s:
Permitting : use of PC& PNDT techniques only under some specific condition12, as including riskof chromosomalabnormalities in the case of women over35, and genetic diseases evident in the family history of the couple. The medical practitioner must obtain a written consent from the pregnant woman in a locallanguage that she understands.
Prohibition : Ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception13. Prohibition of advertisement of PNDTtechniques for detecting sex of foetus14. The appropriate Authorities at the District and State levels are empowered to search, seizeand sealthe machines, equipments and records of the violators. The sale of certain diagnostic equipment is restricted only to the bodies registered under the Act.
Punishment : Offence under this act is cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable. Contravening the provisions of the Act can lead to a fine of Rs 10,000 and up to three years imprisonment for a first offence, with greaterfines and longer terms of imprisonmentfor repeat offenders15.
Thus both these Laws were meant to protectthe child bearing function of women and legitimize the purpose for which pre natal test and abortion could be carried out. How even in practice we find that these provisions have been misused and proving against interest of human rights of female sex. Moreover the implementation of Acts suffers serious failure in management, lack of commitment and motivation, wide spread corruption and lack of awareness among public and medicalfraternity.
While there exists no quick and easy solution to the problem, it is possible to reduce gender inequality, which lies at the core of foeticide. The firstcriticalstep is to challenge the patriarchalattitudes that applaud boys and undermine girls, and to create a culture that celebrates both the genders equally. Some more suggestions…
1. Strong ethical code of conduct among medical professionals should be inculcated duringthe under graduate training itself. So that, the medicalfraternitycan does a lotof service by preventing the practice of female foeticide.
2. Strategy to building capacities of judicial officials and public prosecutor on PC &PNDTAct and socio-cultural dimensions of the problem. Creating a poolofyoung lawyers equipped with knowledge of the Act.
3. Networking with Law colleges in building their capacities for integrating legislations addressing genderdiscrimination, equality, and sex selection issues in the lawcurriculum and in co-curricular activities.
4. Awareness of extreme consequences of an evil like Female Genocide should be made through media intervention. N.G.O. should play key role in educating public on this matter.
5. Politicians, religious leaders and film actors should condemn foeticide publicly,because generalpublic easily follows directions given by their role model.
6. Children should be taught from the schoollevel itself to uphold morals and to avoid discriminatingpractices againstwomen. Their tender minds easily learn things for lifelong journey.
7. Customs of dowry should be stopped. Stringent and effective Law should be made to check this social evil, supported by speedy trials, such cases should be tried by specialcourts and short stay homes should be set up for battered women.
8. Provision should be made to provide socialsecurity (old age pension, freemedicalfacilities)to parents who haveonly daughter and are above 55 years of age. Government of M.P. has recently declared a similar scheme.
9. Education, education, and education geared towards women empowerment. So free and compulsory education to girl should be provided up to high school. Then fee structure for higher education be flexible for girls. This would help to change perspective of society regarding girls as “unnecessary investment”.
10. Government shouldplan financiallures forfamilies who arebelow a certain income level. Such as LADLI LAXMI, MUKHYA MANTRI KANYADANYOJANA etc.of Government of M.P.
11. Reservation in Government jobs as well as in private sector should be given to women. Some jobs like teaching, nursing, banking, callcenters etccould havehigher reservation for women.
12. Girls should also be socialized from early childhood to consider themselves as equal to man. They should be encouraged to perform allthose responsibilities,which arenormally considered to be reserved to the male domain. This would be a positive influence on the coming generations.
13. Finally, efforts should be made for effective implementation of laws related to sex-selectiveabortion. Strictpunishment should be given to defaulter. To counter this, the Government should work on a strategy to crack down on mushrooming ultrasound clinics. a system of accountability should be put on such clinics to fill “F-Forms” properly with duecare. FormerUnion Health Minister Ambumani Ramadoss had recently advocated life sentence as a punishment for those taking recourse to such measures, whereas a high-level committee to suggest amendments to the PNDT Act to give it more teeth, recommended enhancing of the prison term and increase in monetary penalty. The punishment for such crimes, which was an imprisonment of around 2-5 years till now, has been recommended to be increased to around 5-7 years and the fine raised to at least Rs five lacs.
However, legislation alone can’t check sex-selective abortion. Most importance task is a change in the people’s attitude… which can be done only through women empowerment. The preference for a son must go if the larger problem of female foeticide is to be tackled. Thus, it is only by a combination of monitoring, education campaigns, and effective legal implementation that the deep-seated attitudes and practices against women and girls can be eroded. To end up with assertion of -Rig Veda :
“LIFE IS SAID TO BE THE MOST SUBLIME CREATION OF GOD. IT IS THE BELIEF AND CONCEPTION THAT HUMAN BEINGS CANNOT TAKE AWAY LIFE, AS THEY CANNOT GIVE LIFE. LIFE IS BEYOND PRICE AND IT IS NOT ONLY A LEGAL WRONG, BUT A MORAL SIN AS WELL, TO TAKE AWAY LIFE ILLEGALLY. “
1. Female Foeticide in India By Indu Grewal and J. Kishore.
2. Female Foeticide in India by Zoya Zaidi.
3. Booklet on P C&P NDT Act, by NLIU, Bhopal in collaboration with UNP F.
4. Female Foeticide In Punjab: Exploring the socio-economic and cultural dimensions by Ajinder Walia.
5. Female Foeticide : Need To Change The Mindset Of P eople email@example.com.
6. From the newsroom of the BBC World Service: India’s lost girls.
7. www.hsph.harvard.edu/Organizations/healthnet/SAsia/forums/foeticide/articles/ foeticide.html.
8. Kollor T M (1990) Female infanticide: A P sychological analysis. Grass Roots Action, Special issue on Girl child.
9. Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act 1994.
10. The Pre-birth Elimination of Females in India, Ending the Practice: Changing the Mindset, A National Advocacy Strategy Draft, June 17,2002.
11. Gautam Chikermane,”To Save the Girl Child Invest” Indian Express, March 30,2006.
The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org