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12/07/2014

Gendercide in India

The United Nations estimates that on average, there are 105 females to every 100 males in most countries.  In India, the gender ratio is a shocking 93 females to every 100 males.  The main cause for this disparity is female gendercide, especially in the forms of feticide and infanticide.  Feticide and infanticide happen for a few different reasons.  These include economic, cultural and social reasons.  Although there are laws and regulations intended to limit and stop these practices, they are rarely followed or enforced.  The horrible practices of female feticide and female infanticide in India have a few factors and although there are laws designed to stop and limit theses practices, they are rarely enforced.
To understand the problem of female infanticide and feticide, one must first understand what female infanticide and feticide are.  Female infanticide is the killing of female infants shortly after birth.  Female feticide is newer, but no less harmful.  It is the killing of fetuses for the sole reason that they are female.  Infanticide has been practiced for centuries, however a relatively new way of killing has emerged.  Female feticide became common practice in the late 1900s with the introduction of ultrasound technology to India in 1979.
Infanticide in India was first documented by British officials in the late 1700s, but there has been a sex preference for centuries.  The severity of the problem of female infanticide became obvious in 1871 when India’s first census was taken.  A significant disparity in the sex ratio was observed: 940 females to every 1000 males.  The female to male sex ratio in 1901 was 972:1000 the gap has gotten progressively larger over 100 years, 2001’s census reporting a sex ratio of 933 females to every 1000 males.  This number is different in rural versus urban areas, rural areas having, on average, 31 fewer females per 1000 males than urban areas.  According to Dr. Sabu George, a public health activist in Delhi, India and China, the two countries where gendercide occurs the most in the world, more girls are killed than the total number of girls born in the United States every year.   More evidence of the disparity of the sex ratio: 25% of girls do not live past puberty and the mortality rate of girls ages one through five is 40% higher than that of boys the same age.
Female gendercide has a few different factors.  There are cultural and social factors and economic factors.  Social and cultural factors include common sayings and religious verses and blessings.  A Sanskrit blessing given to Hindu women at marriage says “Be a mother of eight sons” perfectly illustrating the stress on women to bear many sons, but no daughters.  A common Hindi saying calls a daughter “a burden on her father’s head.”  A religious verse states “let a daughter be born somewhere else.  Here let a son be born.”  When a daughter is born in Rajasthan, it is said that “a thief has come” referring to a dowry payment.   Social factors also include advertisements for sex determination tests.  Another social factor is an ingrained son preference in India.  Families want to keep the property in the family, women are abused if they cannot produce a son, women are coerced into getting sex determination tests and abortions.  Evidence of this gender preference are in the numbers.  Census reports show a clear disparity, but other studies show a preference.  A study done by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences shows that of children who have been hospitalized at least once, 64.6% were boys.  Both girls were found to get sick and injured as often as boys with similar severity, meaning a lot of girls’ parents didn’t seek medical attention because they did not care whether or not they lived or died.
Economic factors include dowry and the cost of living in general.  Dowry is an amount of money or property given to a groom and his family by the bride and her family.  The amount of dowry is usually very high and difficult for families to pay, making more and more families avoid having daughters at all.  Many parents see infanticide and feticide as a mercy killing because of the poverty they are faced with and the inequalities and struggles that are imposed on women.
There are different ways in which females are killed.  One way is abortion, in which the sex of the child must first be determined.  Sex determination can be done in three ways: amniocentesis (extracting amniotic fluid from the amniotic sac surrounding the fetus), chronic villus sampling (testing of the placental tissue), and ultrasonography.  The first two methods were first developed to determine birth defects, but introduced the possibility of feticide based on sex.  The ultrasound machine has made sex determination easier than ever, and revolutionized the practice of female feticide.  For families who cannot afford the prenatal diagnostic tests or abortions, infanticide is their method of killing.  Infanticide can be carried out in any way imaginable.  Methods include, but are not limited to : feeding infants poison, feeding them unhusked, uncooked rice which punctures their windpipes, suffocating them with wet cloths, strangling them, and pouring acid on them.  When some Indian women were asked to tell of some of the methods they used or heard of people using, they giggled as they spelled out the gory details.  This illustrates how culturally acceptable this gendercide is, that the women are not ashamed of killing the tiny humans, but they laugh about it.
Despite the prevalence of feticide and infanticide, there are laws attempting to limit and stop it.  In an attempt to stop the problem at its source, the Indian government made the practice of dowry illegal in 1961.  Although abortion is legal in India, it is limited to certain requirements due to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) act.  The MTP act made it so that an abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the mother, the child is at risk to be born handicapped, if the child was conceived as a result of rape, or for family planning purposes.  To be lawful, the abortion must be carried out before 18 weeks, when the sex of the child is still hard to determine.  The Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) act was passed in 1994 and made it illegal to determine the sex of a fetus through any diagnostic techniques, requires all owners of ultrasound machines to register the machines, and made advertising for prenatal sex determination illegal.  In his 2010 Academic Journal, Nehaluddin Ahmad states that the Indian Penal Code of 1860 has relevant sections that
can be used to prosecute offenders when: death is caused by a person (Section 299 and Section 300), a pregnant woman is caused to miscarry the unborn baby (Section 312), an act done with intent to prevent a child being born alive or to cause it  to die quickly after birth (Section 315), a quick death of the unborn child is caused (Section 316), a child under 12 years of age is exposed and abandoned (Section 317), [and] the birth of the child is concealed by secretly disposing her/his body (Section 318).
In March 2008, the Conditional Cash Transfer for Girl Child with Insurance Cover (CCT) scheme was announced by India’s Women and Child Development Minister.  The scheme allots  “a total of ≈ 1-2 lakh rupees ($2500-$5000) [to]  be distributed to the family of a girl child provided they meet the conditions of birth registration, immunization, enrolment in school, retention in school and delaying the marriage … [until after the child is] 18 years [old]”.  The CCT scheme aims to end or at least lessen the mistreatment and killing of girls through monetary compensation.  This scheme should have an impact on the amount of feticide, infanticide and mistreatment of girls because one of the main causes of these events is the cost of raising a daughter, and this plan is designed to cushion the financial blow.
Sadly, these laws don’t mean much to the Indian people.  The laws are rarely followed and almost never enforced.  Many physicians simply ignore the laws, conducting illegal abortions privately.  Advertisements still exist, telling of the economic benefits of aborting female children.  In Bombay in 1994, Sonalda Desai noticed posters that advertised sex-determination tests that said: “It is better to pay 500 Rs [rupees] than 500,000 Rs (in dowry) later”.   The lack of enforcement is evident. In the years since the PCPNDT act was passed, very few people have been convicted.  This does not mean there weren’t any females killed or aborted, just that the government doesn’t care if the laws are broken.
The alarming disparity between the world average gender ratio and India's gender ratio has one major cause: the death of females. Whether it be in the womb in the form of feticide, or after birth in the form of infanticide, the population of females in India is significantly smaller than that of males. Feticide and infanticide have a few different causes. These factors include cultural and social causes as well as economic ones. Unfortunately, despite regulations and laws trying to stop and limit female infanticide and feticide, it still continues.  Female feticide andinfanticide have a few different causes and their is little chance of stopping them, despite laws against them.
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