Save a girl child
Let's save a girl child and stand against the genocide that is taking place in the society. Foeticide is the most dastardly form of violence against women. Since the technology for sex determination first came into being, sex selective abortion has unleashed a saga of horror in India. In fact nature intended the womb to be a safe space place for nurturing and grooming the foetus before the child could take birth. But today, doctors have made it the most unsafe space for the female child by unleashing the terror of foeticide. Today a girl child is several times more likely to be eliminated before birth in India than die of various causes in the first year of her existence.
Save a girl child: Sex determination and sex selection
Although foetal sex determination and sex selection is a criminal offence in India, the practice is rampant. Private clinics with ultrasound machines and other latest technologies are doing brisk business. Everywhere, people are paying to know the sex of an unborn child and paying more to abort the female child. The technology has even reached remote areas of the country through facilities like mobile clinics. People are getting sex determination done even for the first child.
Save a Girl Child: Historical connection and overall discrimination against the girl child
Earlier when the technology was not available to know the sex of the foetus, the girl child used to be killed by putting a sand bag on her face or strangulating her or some poison used to be applied on the breasts of the mother. The irony was that neither mothers nor their family members used to express any kind of sorrow on the deaths of their baby daughters. Now the scenario has changed. With the help of new technologies one can easily detect the sex of the foetus. So the practice of female infanticide has been replaced by female foeticide.
Save a girl child: Discrimination against the girl child and women
Female feticide and infanticide is not the only issues with a girl child in India. Actually at every stage of life she is discriminated and neglected for basic nutrition, education and living standard. When she is in the womb, she is eliminated before she can enter the world. If by chance she takes birth then at the time of birth her relatives pull her back and wrung her neck and after killing her she is thrown into a trash can. If she gets lucky to survive the early feticide and infanticide then her childhood is not more than a punishment with her brother getting all the attention with new shoes, dresses and books to learn while she is gifted a broom, a wiper and lots of tears. In her teenage, she misses nutritious food to eat and gets only the left over crumbs. During the age when she should be in college she is hurriedly "married off" leading to conditions where she remains ever dependant on others for her survival. She does not have either social or economic independence. Further her illiteracy, lack of education results in unwanted and early pregnancies, high fertility rate. This further aggravates the overall condition of females in the country. Again if this female gives birth to a girl child, the whole journey cycle of murder and discrimination begins all over again.
Save a Girl Child: Culpability of the Medical profession
As per some studies the industry of ultrasound and sonography, sex-selection and female foeticide is around 500 crores in India and this is run through small clinics, midwives, unregistered doctors and big hospitals. They conduct the abortions very secretly and many a times they become the reason for the death of many women. Many Doctors are involved in this widespread malpractice to make easy money. Actually it is a very profitable business. The machines have become cheaper, so even a new medical graduate can quickly set up a business. It may be illegal but it's very rare that India's medical council debars anyone for ethical malpractice.
Save a girl child: Responsibility and accountability of the medical profession
It is high time that now Doctors are made responsible and accountable. In fact they are the ones who had aggressively promoted the misuse of technology and legitimised feticide. They created a weapon of mass destruction. Worst of worst some Doctors feel that they are doing a great social service and feel happy to provide this service to parents desperate to have a son, in the belief that they are preventing the birth of an unwanted child.
Save a girl child: The oblique way of sex determination
Today when the laws are getting stricter the method of revealing the sex is becoming more oblique. Now either the doctor will hand out blue or pink candy to the family members as they leave or make a remark during the examination by saying something like "Your child will be a fighter" or "The baby is like a doll." It is a clear fact that since the implementation of the legislation has taken place, the business has gone underground. The proof is the ever increasing number of feticide around the country especially in north India.
Save a girl child: Under-the-table fee for sex determination
Now the Doctors who disclose the sex expect an under-the-table fee for breaking the law, ranging from a few hundred rupees in poorer areas to several thousand in more prosperous regions. The plain and simple truth is that the medical fraternity has not been sufficiently regulated in India and there is no sufficient deterrent or awareness even among the medical fraternity which can prevent these malpractices from taking place in the first instance.
Save a Girl Child: The Actual problem in terms of figures
Let’s now look at the figures which speak the truth for itself. According to the last official census figures, India with its nationwide ratio of 933 women for 1,000 men had a deficit of 35 million women when it entered the new millennium. Experts are calling it "sanitised barbarism". UN figures tell that about 750,000 girls are aborted every year in India. It as genocide: "More than 6 million killed in 20 years. That's the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust."
Save a girl child: Abortion of a million foetus in a year
Demographic trends indicate India is fast heading towards a million female foetuses aborted each year. In India, if the 1991 Census showed that two districts had a child sex ratio (number of girls per thousand boys) less than 850; by 2001 it was 51 districts. The irony is that the nation of so called goddess and mothers still follows a culture where people idolize the birth of son and mourn the birth of daughters.
Save a girl child: Income level directly proportional to sex selective abortion
Ironically, as income levels are increasing, sex determination and sex selection is increasing all over India. The most influential and affluent pockets have the worst sex ratios. Take Punjab for instance — 793 girls for every 1,000 boys against the national figure of 927. Or South Delhi — one of the most affluent localities of the Capital — 760. In many regions of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan; the sex ratio of girls for every 1000 boys was mere 745 or 754 or at 779 respectively. Based on the number of births in Delhi every year and the sex ratio across the capital - 814 girls for every 1,000 boys about 24,000 female fetuses are aborted in the capital every year, and about one million across the country.
Save a girl child: Warning of unexpected social problems in the near future
Abortion rates are increasing in almost 80% of the Indian states and especially in Punjab and Haryana. These two states have the highest number of abortions every year. UNICEF has warned that unless steps are taken to address the problem across the country, India will soon face unexpected social problems like men unable to find brides, gaps in the work force and increased trafficking of women.
Save a girl child: Answering ethical questions
The other side of the coin is the issue that attempts to regulate women's right to abortion inevitably raise delicate ethical questions, but for a contrary like India this is not a pro-choice or pro-life issue. "Equality is a fundamental right," but where is the gender equality when one million girl fetuses are destroyed every year before birth itself. Therefore we need to understand the fact that our situation is really alarming and extraordinary and preventing this discrimination takes precedence over arguments about women's reproductive rights.
Save a girl child: The taboo surrounding sex selective abortion
One more major problem is that despite the prevalence of the ghastly and inhuman phenomenon, the decision to abort a female fetus remains a taboo, and it is difficult to persuade women to talk about the issue. If women themselves become party to the problem then how can we ever think about finding the solution?
Save a Girl Child: Misuse of technology
The social evil of discrimination and marginalization of women and killing of girl child is ironically deep rooted in Indian ethos and the most shocking fact is that the innovative and hard high end technologies have actually helped in the brutal killing of the Indian girl child. Earlier it was infanticide. Now it is easier with feticide with technology at the helping end. Innovative techniques, like biopsy, ultrasound, scan tests and amniocentesis, devised to detect genetic abnormalities, are highly misused by number of families to detect gender of the unborn child. These clinical tests are highly contributing to the rise in genocide of the unborn girl child.
Save a girl child: The technology as the devil
In patriarchal States like Rajasthan where infanticide has existed for centuries, this new technology has many takers as it is easy and secretive. There are far less questions to be answered when you abort a girl child rather than kill a baby girl. Today, people pretend overtly that they are modern and that they do not discriminate between a girl and a boy. But when the actual situation arises they do not hesitate to quietly go to the next village and get an ultrasound done and even abort the girl child. Here the technology has become the uncontrolled beast and demon rather than the angel.
Save a Girl Child: Related & Associated issues
Apart from the means of killing of the girl child "foeticide" is also one of the most common causes of maternal mortality. Law permits that the she sex of the foetus can be only determined around 14-16 weeks. Because of this most of the sex selective abortions are planned late and this leads to a very high chance of maternal mortality. Either way the woman suffers.
Save a girl child: Foeticide a symptom of a larger problem
We must understand the fact that in fact Foeticide is a symptom of larger and wider problem related to marginalization and discrimination against women through various social, cultural and economic bias and practices. Foeticide is related to issues as varied as privatisation of medical education and dowry. For example Karnataka is a state in India with the highest number of private medical colleges. Here healthcare has turned into a commodity without proper regulation and control leading to terrifying consequences like illegal abortions and feticide.
Save a girl child: Affluent farmers and foeticide
Another ironical phenomenon is that wherever agricultural green revolution has happened with resultant increase in income among farmers, foeticide has increased. The connection is simple. With more landholdings and wealth inheritance the dowry demands has increased and therefore birth of a daughter is considered as an economic liability. Today, people don't even want their daughters to study higher as a well-educated groom is likely to demand more dowry.
Save a girl child: Male child selection in nuclear families
Even the creation of small and nuclear families have come at the cost of the girl child. Parents who are opting for one child are most likely to go for a male child rather than a female child.
Save a girl child: Demand Vs. Supply debate
Another issue that has been put forward by the medical community to absolve their own culpability in this whole malpractice is the demand and supply debate. Doctors say there is a social demand and they are only fulfilling it. They argue that social attitudes must change. However they are ignoring the fact that in this case supply fuels demand. The easier the technology is available the more likely is the chance of abortion and feticide.
Save a girl child: Tougher regulation and control
There is no option other than tougher regulation and control of the "technology and the medical practice" as technology in the hands of greedy, vested interests cannot be neutral. There is a law in place to prevent misuse of the technology and it must be enforced strongly. On the other hand the solution for curbing the increase of feticide can only work through increasing awareness and overall empowerment of women in every aspect.
Save a girl child: Need for female youth icons and role models
Women's participation in workforce, having disposable incomes and their making a contribution to larger society will make a difference to how women are seen in the society. Female youth icons and role models are definitely making an impact in changing the overall perception of the society which has been highly discriminatory till now.
Save a girl child: Laws against violence and discrimination of women
Other issues which are attached to the overall discrimination and marginalization of women include the laws for violence against women such as dowry, domestic violence, rape which are directly in the control of a largely inefficient and corrupt police force which in fact is biased against women with its colonial hangover and resultant approach of doing things. In any case of violence and discrimination against women the whole onus and burden of the case is always put on the women involved.
Save a girl child: Urgent need for police reforms
It’s high time that police reforms take place and the country gets a modern police force which is more sensitive to the issues of the society rather than the current one which exists to please the whims and the fancies of their political masters. Today even though good and tough laws exist still the offenders get away with ease. Just like many other laws of the country the law preventing sex determination and sex selection exits but enforcement is a big question mark.
Save a girl child: Myths to be shattered
Another myth that needs to be shattered is that feticide exists among illiterate and less affluent of the society. According to a survey there is a 28.32 % increase in the number gainfully employed and working women in India in the last two decades. But at the same time, what is more shameful and ironical is that there is a subsequent increase in the number of pregnancy terminations or abortions by working women.
Save a girl child: Abortions by working women
The reasons stated behind the practice of abortions by working women are: They want a small family; they want better career prospects; they want a male child and they do not want daughters. Many of these women justify sex selection and abortions because they think that if they deliver a baby boy then they are looked upon in the family. Also, they do not want their daughters to suffer the hardships a girl has to face. Besides that they find themselves unable to afford the dowry expenses the parents of a girl child have to bear. “Since maintaining the high living standards has become so expensive, who will save for her?” say modern mothers. These are the ‘serious’ reasons these literate and modern women give for not giving birth to a girl child. But they are forgetting that had their mothers thought the same way, they would have also met the same fate.
Save a girl child: The bane of consumer culture
Further the whole problem is just an extension of our consumer culture. If someone can afford to buy a Mercedes, they feel they can afford to secure themselves a son also. If they can pay for an ultrasound, then they don't need to have a daughter - that's the logic.
Save a girl child: Outdated social practices and their consequences
Dowry is a big issue for the urban elite because the amount which people are expected to pay as dowry is astonishing and ridiculous. Over that is the cost of the obscenely extravagant Indian weddings. Aside from the costs of dowries and marriages, there are other reasons why daughters are seen as less desirable like there is general belief that sons will look after their old parents and daughters are anyway to go to a different household and are therefore of not much use in the long run. The social and cultural settings are negatively biased against women. After marriage, a woman traditionally lives with her husband's family, leaving her own parents to be looked after by a son, if there is one, in their old age. Sons carry on the family name and often the business, usually inherit the property and perform the last rites. All these contribute towards a negative bias against the girl child even before she takes birth.
Save a girl child: The misconception that poverty leads to foeticide
From the above analysis we can clearly see that it's a misconception to think that this is a problem related to extreme poverty. It's quite rampant in upper and middle class families. Female feticide is very high in Punjab and Haryana - some of the best-off states in the country. Even if there's money there has been no attitudinal change. In fact more money has led to aggravation of the whole problem. The mind-set remains - girls are not important, girls are a burden, and sons are more useful. With India's new lifestyle culture, when people are rich they want to spend their money on things, not on dowries or marriages for their daughters. So we can see that how social and cultural practices like dowry and extravagant marriages are in fact contributing to the overall menace of female abortion and feticide.
Save a Girl Child: Law against foeticide and Implementation of the law
After almost a decade of delays, the Prohibition of Sex Selection Act came into force in February 2003, aimed at preventing the use of ultrasound examinations for sex determination. Any person including pregnant women who seek help for sex selection could be sentenced to a three-year prison sentence and fined 50,000 rupees, or $1,200, while If any doctor is found guilty of this malpractice, he can face suspension of his registration by the state medical council.
Save a girl child: The Act that was passed in 2003
Pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostics techniques (prohibition and sex selection) Act, which came into effect on 14th February 2003, was as a replacement of the pre-natal diagnostic techniques (regulation and misuse amendment) Act 2002, that said any kind of sex selection in pre or post pregnancy is prohibited.
Save a girl child: Creating acts and laws not sufficient to deal with the problem
But these acts seem not to be casting much effect on the dark shades of human deeds. No case has come to court, and campaigners against the practice of prenatal sex determination complain that the legislation is impossible to enforce. Law is very well conceived and the need of the hour is legal literacy to ensure the law is implemented. Here the role and competence of the law enforcement agencies is a big question mark? In spite of all the stringent laws framed to curb the female foeticide, the practice continues. The declining sex ratio between boys and girls poses a serious threat to the very existence of a balanced social order in India.
Save a Girl Child: Sensitization of the society
There is a need to sensitize the Indian society about the sex selection tests and the impending gender crisis. There is a need to advocate to the society about greater gender equality. Increase awareness about the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Act (PNDT), 1994 as well as its recent amendment passed by the Parliament that bans any form of sex selection tests is needed.
Save a girl child: Awareness in the society
Society has to be sensitized about the pitiable state of women in the Indian society of which selective sex abortion of the female foetus is one of the indicators apart from increasing incidences of violence and trafickking.
Save a girl child: Implementation of the law
Law needs to be strictly implemented and we need to increase compliance amongst the maternity homes, nursing homes, ultra-sound clinics, radiologists for registering their ultra-sound machines under the PNDT Act. Medical community has to be sensitized about the ethics of medical profession and the role they ought to be playing in improving the population crisis as well as sex-ratios in the country. It’s also time to have a stricter and tougher regulation of the medical practice in India.
Save a girl child: Changing the attitude
There is a need to build a dialogue amongst the stakeholders as well as track inter-generational change amongst the women through various generations. Achievements of the successful women from different strata of the society as well as from different walks of life need to be highlighted to change the attitude of the society against women.
Save a Girl Child: Closing comments
There needs to be widespread visible contempt and anger in society against the "genocide" against women. Today nobody can say female foeticide is not their problem when more than one million girl foetuses are been selectively destroyed every year in the country. It’s high time we all did our bit to help save the girl child as time is really running out for the girl child in India. The disastrous consequences of what is happening today will be felt in another 10-20 years time. Therefore to prevent a horrible future the need of the hour is to realize our responsibilities and give a halt to this evil crime of killing the girl child in the womb itself. A determined drive can initiate a spark to light the lamp and show the world that we indeed are the land of the great goddesses and mothers.
Article by Sanjay Nair
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