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>> Thursday, 3 March 2011

Abortion of female foetuses is a regular occurrence in India, since Indian boys have traditionally been thought to be more important than girls. Despite this fact some regard this to be an ancient custom. However, recent figures show that the number of sex selective-abortions is still rising in Indian society today. It is therefore predicted that there may be very serious consequences for the future.

Comparison of the birth rates of Indian boys with that of Indian girls shows that fewer and fewer girls are being born in India today. Over the last decade, the births of nearly two million Indian female foetuses were prevented as a result of female foeticide. In 1960 there were 976 girls born for every 1000 boys, but in 2001 there were only 927 girls born for every 1000 boys.

A study conducted in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir -, revealed that 71 percent of all induced abortions are being performed on female foetuses. With a 21 percent increase in the overall induced abortion rate, between 1998 and 2003, the imbalance in the sex ratio in this district has increased significantly. Most of the researchers say that these figures represent the abortion situation in many parts of India.

Modern sex termination

Since the 1970s, technology able to detect genetic abnormalities has been used as a way of determining the sex of a foetus. Subsequently ultrasound determination of sex has come into existence. When the Indian 'Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act' was legalized in 1971, this technology became readily available. As soon as this act was recommended by the central family planning board, the amount of sex determined abortions in India soon started to sky-rocket.

Despite the fact that prenatal sex determination and sex selective abortions are banned in India under the 'Diagnostic Techniques Regulations and Prevention of Misuse Act'(PNDT, 1994), one third of all Indian women have still undergone sex determination testing at a certain point. A quarter of them also approved sex selective abortions. This remains easy, since the knowledge of prenatal sex determination tests is widespread and sex selection is a common reason for abortions among married women.

Male Dominance

The reasons for the popularity of prenatal sex determination in India, called 'Son Mania', are both multifaceted and deeply imbedded in the Indian culture. Sons carry on the family name and are charged with the task of supporting their parents in old age. For example, according to the Hindu scriptures, only sons are allowed to set fire to the graves of their parents during their funerals, releasing them from the trammels of this world and ensuring their souls enter into heaven.

Daughters on the other hand do not make any further contribution to their parents after marriage and are being discriminated against. Producing sons is used as a means to meet the conflicting demands. The majority of sex selective abortions take place in families where there are three or more children, particularly daughters.

Son preference has never been confined to India alone. Ancient Indian, Chinese, Egyptian and Greek manuscripts are a testimony to this. Nowadays females worldwide are still affected because of sex selective abortions. Cross-cultural studies done by social scientists have shown a favouring of sons and honouring for their birth worldwide. Traditionally in most societies, male children are preferred for economic, social and cultural reasons. In contrast, girls are said to cost money by way of dowry payments and certain religious ceremonies may only be performed by males, as happens in Hindu society.

Future Consequences

The continuing decline in the Indian sex ratio due to the mentioned sex selective abortions may have many potentially serious consequences. One obvious social impact is that there are not enough women for the men to marry. This paucity of potential brides might result in girls being married at a younger age, which will further contribute to the poor status of women and they are therefore more likely to suffer from increased morbidity. Even today, girls get married at the age of 15.

Another potential consequence of a surplus of unmarried men is an increase in acts of social violence against women. Thirdly, in view of the fact that women are a vital part of India's labour force, the declining sex ratio will have major impact on the economy as well. It is suggested that it would be a wise decision to counteract the sex-selective abortions and their consequences before it disrupts the Indian society in a very serious way.

What can be done?

1. What measures other than legislation might the government take to abolish sex-selective abortions and female infanticide?

2. Improve the status of women, their autonomy and economic power through education.

3. Promotion of credit loan programs for women to increase their self-sufficiency.

4. The dowry demand has to be stopped forcefully.

5. Change the traditional views and stereotype notions about women.

6. Make people more aware of the causes and consequences of sex-selective abortions.

7. Trace out the loopholes in the PNDT Act and the implementing agencies in order to uproot the problem forever.



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