In a recent news report, out of 216 children born in 132 Indian villages, none were girls. This report brings to light a problem that has dogged the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan and China for decades.
According to a 2019 Indian government report there are 63 million fewer women in India than men. This is brought about by the shame and stigma associated with giving birth to a baby girl. From as far back as the 1800s, daughters were seen as a liability to their families, no matter the caste.
Boys are said to bring wealth and prosperity to their families hence they are highly favoured. Girls, on the other hand, don’t contribute anything to their family’s wealth since they didn’t work.
The high cost of dowry is another cause of female foeticide and infanticide. This is because, in the Indian culture, dowry is paid by the females. For families that can afford to pay the dowry, the practice is seen as reducing the family wealth. Poor families or those with many daughters cannot afford to raise enough money for the payment of dowry.
Apart from the economic aspect, in India, much like in Africa, sons are viewed as more valuable than daughters. Many parents argue that sons will carry on the family name and look after their parents in their old age while girls get married, leave their parents and go to live with their in-laws.
To date, couples are under pressure from their family members to have sons so as to continue the family line. Society isn’t kind as mothers who bear daughters are ridiculed and regarded lowly. According to Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF), mothers who refuse to comply by society’s demands are belittled, abandoned, beaten or killed by their husbands.
In India, before the advancement in technology baby girls would be killed in their first year of life. This is still done in instances where the mother wasn’t able to check her baby’s sex beforehand. According to Unwanted, female infants are either buried alive, starved, abandoned, left to die of infections, crushed with stones or stifled with a pillow.
As the use of ultrasounds penetrated the country, it became easier for parents to determine the sex of their unborn babies. This led to sex-selective abortions where female foetuses were aborted.
When it became apparent that sex-screening brought more harm than good, the government, in 1994, banned sex-selective abortions. Nevertheless, couples still found a way to get the services. It’s still practised to date, though illegally.
The killing of baby girls isn’t the only vice that has become rampant in the country. There have been reports that because some areas have such few women, human trafficking has increased with women being brought from elsewhere and sold off as brides.
Other efforts by the government to curb female foeticide and infanticide include abolishing dowry payment. As this is deeply ingrained in the culture, it still takes place.
Many families who have their first child as a girl will ensure they have a boy next. Any girls conceived afterwards are to be killed until a son is born. However, girls born after boys are allowed to live.
The problem is rampant in the north-western states of India. Women in the eastern and southern states, however, have been empowered and actively take part in economic activities like farming. This has helped in reducing gender discrimination (female foeticide and infanticide) among the girl child.
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