ExploringSex Discrimination and Selection through Female Foeticide in IndiaJoshuaGraceARW350 NAAProfessorWinston SmithSenecaCollege In2017, acts such as female infanticide, the killing of a new born infant, and femalefoeticide, the killing of a fetus are still widely practiced in many SouthAsian countries including India.
Patriarchal views of women have been a problemin India, and must be addressed in order to decrease the practices of female infanticideand foeticide. Women are seen as financial burdens, because of practices such asdowry giving, where a bridegroom must be financially compensated. Men are alsomore valued, because it is their financial responsibility to take care ofelderly parents, and perform religious funeral rituals.
Someyears ago I remember hearing from one of my teachers about the problem ofson-preference in China which resulted in many daughters being abandoned inorphanages. It was a topic that shocked me and interested me at the same time.Once I heard about infanticide and foeticide in India I knew I wanted to learnmore about why this was still being practiced in 2017, and what could be doneto address this issue.
The practices of infanticide and foeticide are practicedon females in India at an alarming rate. One might expect this issue tohave improved over time as people becomemore educated, but that has not been the case. In fact, female infanticide hasdecreased, while female foeticide has increased as a result of increasedtechnology in sex determination. Sugandha Nagpal (2013), citing Patel (2007)explains this shift and provides some historical background in the articleSex-selective Abortion in India: Exploring Institutional Dynamics and Responses:Historically,in India the elimination of girls was tied to female infanticide. This practicewas limited to upper-class warrior castes, who devalued women due to theeconomically draining custom of hypergamy (marriage of a woman with a man froma higher social group). Contemporarily, the advent and easy accessibility ofsex determination technology (henceforth referred to as SD) has coincided withthe preponderance of sex-selective abortions. In fact, sex-selection haslargely come to replace female infanticide as a method of eliminating females.
(p.19)InIndia, the view of women as second class citizens to men has not changed.However, since sex determination technology has become more widespread fewerwomen are practicing infanticide where the child is eliminated after birth.
This makes sense, as murdering a female baby would likely be much moretraumatic than having an abortion. Either way, the results are the same,contributing to an uneven sex ratio where men are much more common in Indiabecause they are valued more and not considered economic burdens. DweepikaKumari (2015) shows how the sex ratio has continued to decline especially amongyounger groups:Thesex-ratio has declined from 972 females per 1000 males in 1901 to 940 femalesin 2011. Though the overall sex-ratio has shown a little improvement during thepast two decades, the child sex-ratio (number of girls per 1000 boys) has continued its declining trend to reach anabysmal low of 914. (p.18)The skewed sex ratio wasfirst noticed in India when the country was still under British control. Theinformation came to light after the first census survey was taken in thecountry.
This was an important discovery but would have little impact onchanging the desire for sons. In fact since it was imposed on the Indian peopleby the British it could have the opposite effect. When colonial rule is imposedon a people it can often lead to increased patriarchal oppression. As AniaLoomba (2005) points out in Colonialism /Postcolonialism, “Colonialism intensified patriarchal oppression, oftenbecause native men, increasinglydisenfranchised and excluded from the public sphere, became more tyrannical athome. They seized upon the home and the woman as emblems of their culture andnationality” (p.
142). Ania Loomba is describing how colonial rule can take awaythe identity of local men resulting in anger and aggression towards females.This can be seen in India which is a patriarchal country where men are valuedmore than women. It is important to note that there are many reasons why parentsprefer sons over daughters in India. It is a deep rooted issue that cannot bechanged by merely implementing laws that prevent sex-selective abortion. Practicessuch as dowry giving continue to perpetuate the idea that women are financialburdens in comparison to sons.
While the groom or his family will benefit frombeing compensated financially, the bride on the other hand is seen as afinancial burden by both families. This is just one of many reasons that men arepreferred over women in India, but if the practice of dowry giving waseliminated it could help combat the idea that women are financial burdens. However,men are also seen as the ones that will support their parents in old age bothfinancially and with security. As Kumari (2015) points out, “The aged parentsalso need protection from the anti-social elements e.g. in case of attempt ofusurpation of family property, theft etc.
All this leads to a strongson-preference among the women.” (p.24). Related to this issue is the fearmothers have for the safety of their daughters, being brought up in a place whereskewed sex ratios can result in increased violence towards women. Despite thenegative views towards women, that resulted in an uneven sex ratio in the firstplace, women can further become targets of violence as this gap widens. Withfewer women in India, more men will be without wives and the stability that comeswith a family. The negative effect this has on Indian males can result in increasedmental, physical, and sexual violence towards women. Nehaluddin Ahmad (2010) inthe article Female Foeticide in Indiapoints out the negative effects of a skewed sex ratio: Withfemale feticide continuing at its current pace, ten percent of the malepopulation will have to remain unmarried, not experiencing the joys ofintimacy, family life, or raising children.
With ten percent of men leadingemotionally vacuous lives, they may become societal nuisances, possibly turningto crime. With a shrinking pool of marriageable females, the Hindustan Times recently reported thatyoung girls from Assam and West Bengal are being kidnapped and sold intomarriage in neighboring Haryana. (p.23)This shows an uneven sexratio due to female foeticide will not only have negative repercussions forindividual females but also for individual males and society as a whole inIndia. Patriarchal views that lead to the foeticide of females will only leadto more violence against females.
It will also lead to more deviant behaviourby men who feel alienated in society. Anotherfactor that drives the preference for sons over daughters in India is the religiousbelief that sons must be involved in funeral rituals. The views are that sonsmust be involved for the parents to obtain proper peace after life. Kumari(2015) explains these beliefs, “According to the traditional Indian Hindu view,only the sons are allowed to light the funeral pyre and perform the otherfuneral rites. Only then can the parents attain ‘moksha’ or ‘paith’. Also, theholy scriptures allow only the sons to perform the ‘pind-daan’ to theforefathers” (p.24).
India is a very religious country that has many peoplepracticing Hinduism. Since it is written in the scriptures that sons must performthese funeral rituals it leads to a preference for sons over daughters. Althougheconomic factors clearly play a significant role in the preference for sons, itis a complex issue that cannot be linked to one cause. Religious factors havecontributed to the preference for sons. Some women willingly choose to commit female foeticide inIndia because the patriarchal views of women have led to a preference for sons.However women also are pressured by their husbands and direct family members.The economic factors, religious factors and societal pressure for sons over daughterscan lead family members to pressure their daughters to abort female foetuses. Froma Western perspective we must keep this in mind before passing judgement on thewomen who are victims in this cycle.
Sugandha Nagpal (2013) shows the danger offocusing on a single feminist perspective:Theliberal pro-choice feminist position fails to consider the way in which varioussocial conditions (i.e., the pressure to bear a son, women’s reliance on theability to bear sons to garner respect in their marital home) shapes choice.Due to its narrow focus on a certain type of choice, the liberal pro-choicefeminist discourse serves to reduce Indian women’s reproductive choice to amatter of cultural preference. (p.24)It is not the case that Indianwomen prefer sons solely because of cultural preferences; many are pressured byfamily members. If women do not listen to their husbands or direct family theyrisk being mistreated or shunned altogether. Women in these situations mustalso be worried about how an unwanted daughter will be treated by a family whopressured for a son.
An unwanted daughter that is born could possibly faceabuse by family members. In complex situations like this women may feel it isbetter to abort a female foetus rather then give birth to a child who couldface possible neglect or abuse. Thecriminalization of sex selective abortion can also lead to further problems for females as Lisa Eklundand Navtej Purewal (2016), citing Ganatra (2008) state, “The economic, social,and cultural dynamics which produce bias against females must be part of the strategyto combat sex selection, rather than a narrow criminalization of abortion whichendangers women’s access to safe reproductive health services” (p.50). Thecriminalization of sex selective abortion in India is not enough to preventthese procedures from occurring. It also can put women in danger as they cannotlegally seek the health services they need.
They may have to turn to non-licensedmedical professionals which could seriously risk their health. Portraying womenas criminals for this is also unfair considering the pressure on them andcomplexity of the situation. An approach must be made to try and change some ofthe social biases and patriarchy against women. It is important to look at what strategies have been usedto combat the skewed sex ratio in India as a result of female foeticide. Bylooking at the strategies one can see how they have helped or hindered progress.In looking into this one can discover solutions that may be able to better thelives of women in India.
Concerned with a growing number of aborted femalefoetuses, India implemented the PNDT Act, as described by Arindam Nandi (2015),” Faced with growing concern over such abortions and the resultant genderimbalance, India implemented a ban on foetal sex determination in 1994 throughthe Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (PNDT) Act” (p.466). This law does notmake abortion illegal; however, it does make it illegal to use technology todetermine whether the foetus is female. This law clearly has good intentions toprotect females in India, however it ignores the social dynamics that result inson preference. It also ignores the fact that people will continue to havechildren until they have a son, in which case female children could beneglected. The PNDT act is not necessarily a failure but did fail to addressthe bigger social issues. However it did have some positive results as Nandi(2015) points out:Wefind that the PNDT Act was successful in increasing the odds of a female birth.However, female-to-male sex ratios steadily declined during our study period inall areas.
Therefore, the law only managed to slow down the pace of sex selection.In the absence of the law, the number of sex-selective abortion of girls wouldhave been higher. (p.476)It appears to be a lawthat could help the sex ratio in the long term, if other strategies are takento change the social preference for sons. However, it will not be an easy taskto change the biases towards women and will be a long continuous process.
It isalso a problem that this law seems to have not been taken seriously and has notbeen properly enforced by officials. The law cannot serve as a deterrent whenvery few people actually get prosecuted for sex-selective abortion.Nehaluddin Ahmad (2010) points out thisreality in his article Female Feticide inIndia:Despitethese statutory provisions, due to lack of proper enforcement, female feticide isstill widely practiced and very few cases are prosecuted. The irony of thesituation is that in the 14 years since India enacted the Pre-Natal DiagnosticTechnologies (PNDT) Act, with countless thousands of female lives terminated inutero for convenience sake, not a single person was convicted until veryrecently.
(p.26)Certainly it is an issuethat this law has not been taken seriously by officials with the authority toenforce the law. However the author makes a generalization, because women arenot getting these abortions merely out of convenience. These women have manypressures placed on them and should not be viewed in a negative light. Another strategy that was used to try and even out thesex ratio in India was to further educate women. The belief was that if theycould increase literacy among females the sex ratio would gradually improve. Itwas believed through increased literacy and freedom from the control of men women wouldmake the choice to have female children.
However as Kumari (2015) states, “TheSex-ratio in India is continuously declining in spite of gradually increasingliteracy among women” (p.18). It is not enough to increase literacy among womenbecause there are still financial, religious and cultural pressures to birthsons.
Unless the social issues are addressed policies will not be enough toprevent son preference in India. Legal intervention and policies have helped to slow downthe process but have certainly not gone far enough in combating the issue of adisproportionate sex ratio, as a result of female foeticide in India. Policiesmust be introduced that will change biases towards women that deem them asfinancial burdens and inferior to men.
If attitudes towards females can bechanged, India will slowly be able to improve their sex ratio. Increasedemployment of women is one way this could be combatted. Eliminating thepractice of dowry giving would also help by putting less pressure on women andtheir parents. As Kumari (2015) points out, “Promoting and highlighting therising gender equality through ad-campaigns. Anti-dowry campaigns and givingboost to girl education and female employment is an effective method to nullifythe negative mind set of a girl as a burden” (p.27). Education alone has notbeen an effective tool to combat the issue, but if women receive more workopportunities in India it could help.
Men may be more likely to see women aseconomic contributors instead of viewing them as economic burdens. This will bea long continuous approach and will not necessarily solve the problem, howeveras Nagpal (2013), citing Ganatra (2008) explains, “In South Korea, policy initiativesand laws facilitated greater female workforce participation in high value jobs,higher rate of female education, old age security schemes and women’s rightsand responsibilities in their natal house post-marriage” (p.32).
India willobviously have to approach this in a different way than South Korea because ofthe differences between the two nations. However it is good to know, that approachesare available that can help to bring an end to discrimination of females in India. Other laws have also been implemented to tryto reduce discrimination towards females. However, they must be enforced, asNandi (2015) explains, “In 2005, a new national Protection of Women fromDomestic Violence Act was implemented, which may also improve the status ofwomen and young girls in Indian households” (p.476).
This law could provehelpful if it is enforced but more must be done to end the stigma towards femaleson a social level. A useful approach could be for local organizations to tryand spread awareness in communities. If girls and women are given moreopportunities, people will see they can contribute in many ways. A good exampleof women bringing awareness to the issue is mentioned by Rashmi Luthra (1999)in which she states, “The urban women’s movement in India has been successful inpublicizing various women’s issues through the press, including dowry relatedmurders, rape, and selective abortion of female foetuses” (p.1).
Talking aboutthe issue must certainly be difficult for women who have to experience these inequalities.However, as more women talk about the issue it will encourage other to speak upand try to encourage change. Itis clear there is no easy solution to female infanticide and more commonly femalefoeticide. Religious traditions, social dynamics and views that deem women asfinancial burdens all contribute to thegrowing problem. Laws have been implemented that have helped in certain ways;however, they have also put women at risk. Many women are pressured into committingthese acts out of fear they or their future daughter will be abused. If lawsare implemented that will help protect women and not demonize them they shouldbe enforced. Further, more should be done at a local social level to bringawareness to the problem and how it will negatively affect India as a whole.
Ifthe patriarchal views cannot be changed then policies and laws will only go sofar in protecting women in India. ReferencesAhmad, N. (2010). FemaleFeticide in India. Issues in Law &Medicine, 26 (1), 13-29.Eklund,L.
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