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Female foeticide: The devil in the society

New Delhi, Sat, 19 May 2007 Nadeem Bhat

May 19: Female foeticide is a heinous act and an indicator of violence against women. Women in India have suffered a lot and have swallowed innumerable atrocities for so many generations. Be it wife battering, rapes or dowry deaths, she has been suffering and subjected to discrimination. The homicide of women exists in various forms in the societies all over. However, Indian society displays some unique trends and particularly brutal versions, such as dowry deaths and Sati. What is real bad is that many of these heinous acts continue to haunt the poor girls.

Female foeticide is one of the worst case scenarios which women expect in this country. Ironically some of the worst gender ratios, indicating gross violation of women’s rights, are found in South and East Asian countries such as India and China. It is because of this reason that the sex ratio of girls to boys in many parts of the country has dropped to less than 800:1,000. The United Nations has expressed serious concern about the trend.

The determination of the sex of the foetus by ultrasound scanning, amniocentesis, and in vitro fertilization has aggravated this situation. Although no moral or ethical principle supports such a procedure for gender identification.

The situation is further worsened by lack of awareness of women’s rights and by the indifferent attitude of governments and medical professionals. In India, the available legislation for prevention of sex determination needs strict implementation, alongside the launching of programmes aimed at altering attitudes, including those prevalent in the medical profession.

The intensity of this heinous crime in our country is revealed by the following figures:

Sex Ratio (females per 1000 males), India 1901–2001

Year Sex Ratio Sex Ratio
1901 972 –
1911 964 –
1921 955 –
1931 950 –
1941 945 –
1951 946 –
1961 941 976
1971 930 964
1981 934 962
1991 929 945
2001 933 972 (Children-0–6yr)

The private foetal sex determination clinics were first established in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. The practice of selective abortion became popular from the late 1970s. Surprisingly, 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.

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. There are even posters in Bombay advertising sex-determination tests that read, ‘It is better to pay 500 Rs now than 50,000 Rs (in dowry) later’.

Women and Developments in Reproductive Technology Abortion was legalized in India in 1971 (Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act) to strengthen humanitarian values (pregnancy can be aborted if it is a result of sexual assault, contraceptive failure, if the baby would be severely handicapped, or if the mother is incapable of bearing a healthy child). 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 from rich to the poorest. Both techniques are now being used for sex determination with the intention of abortion if the foetus turns out to be female.

Most of those in the medical profession are part of the same gender biased society. It is scarcely surprising that they are happy to fulfill the demands of prospective parents. Medical malpractice in this area is flourishing, and bans on gender selection, for example in Maharashtra, have had little effect.

Prenatal sex determination with the intention of preventing female births must be viewed as a manifestation of violence against women, a violation of their human rights. The pregnant woman, though often equally anxious to have a boy, is frequently pressurized to undergo such procedures. Many women suffer from psychological trauma as a result of forcibly undergoing repeated abortions. Moreover, demographers warn that in the next twenty years there will be a shortage of brides in the marriage market mainly because of the adverse juvenile sex ratio, combined with an overall decline in fertility.

Given the lower value placed on women in Indian society the impact on society should not be underestimated. The sharp rise in sex crimes in Delhi have been attributed to the unequal sex ratio. According to Chinese estimates, by 2020 there are likely to be 40 million unmarried young men, called guang guan or ‘bare branches’, in China, because of the adverse sex ratio. A society then is prone to dangers like more women to be exploited as sex workers, increases in molestations and rapes.

The Government of India passed the Pre- conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act In 1994, with the aim of preventing female foeticide. It was later amended and replaced in 2002 by the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act without properly implementation ever.

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 greater fines and longer terms of imprisonment for repeat offenders.

The research done to assess the implementation of the 1994 Act in South Delhi revealed serious failures in management and implementation there was lack of commitment and motivation with widespread corruption and little knowledge in clinics of the provisions of the Act.

To prevent this practice in Indian society is a serious challenge. It must involve

• Ensuring strict implementation of existing legislation.
• The advocacy of a scientific, rational, and humanist approach.
• The empowerment of women and a strengthening of women’s rights through campaigning against practices such as dowry.
• Inculcating a strong ethical code of conduct among medical professionals, beginning with their training as undergraduates.
• Simple methods of complaint registration, accessible to the poorest and most vulnerable women.
• Wide publication in the media of the scale and seriousness of the practice.
• NGOs should take a key role in educating the public on this matter.
• Regular assessment of indicators of status of women in society, such as sex ratio, and female mortality, literacy, and economic participation.

It is now or never otherwise it will be too late for us, to erode the deep-seated attitudes and practices against women and girls in our country.


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taruna aggarwal

May 8, 2012 at 10:23 PM

it is a big shame to say that most of the people who are involved in this heinous crime are highly educated,some are doctors,professors and even some members of health management....according to me the reason behind this crime is the poor culture mentality and superstitious thinking.....plzzz wake up friends...stop this


September 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

We call ourselves as educated people but still we act like an Illiterate and ignorant person by doing such a shameful crime in a country like India where Today, Women are highly respected for the multi- dimensional roles and the tasks that she performs. Wake up! Stop this and together We Can make a Change in the Society.


June 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

women are the greatest gift of god but why we kill them


June 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

I think without improve this situaton of women, our country can never develop


May 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

great description on female foeticide , now i think social evils can be eradicated from society by following the steps mentioned in article.



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