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India is a country of incredible ironies. It is a land where people worship myriad forms of female Shakti in quest of wealth, wisdom and power. In this country it is a common sight to see thousands of couples making arduous journeys every year to shrines of goddesses in order to be blessed with a child. But strangely enough, in this country, a couple is said to be ‘blessed’ only when it has a male child; for a girl is never considered a blessing in our society. Her birth seems to cast a pall of gloom over the entire family. Her birth is not rejoiced, instead the entire family moans.

Gender biasness had been the typical attitude of the patriarchal Indian society since time immemorial. The Vedas contained passages which emphasized the necessity of son. ‘May you be the mother of a hundred sons’ have always been a popular blessing by elders to young brides. It is indeed an undeniable fact that despite differences in social and intellectual status, almost all the sections of the society do stand on the same platform so far as their craving for male child is concerned. On the other hand, daughters are unwanted, they are considered burdensome and people who do not dare to carry this ‘burden’ for long dispose them off as quickly as possible, for in Incredible India, ‘killing of the girl child is no sin.’

Initially the girl child was put to death brutally, being throttled, poisoned or drowned in a bucket of water right after her birth. These had been the common practices followed particularly in the rural areas. However the evil of killing the girl child no longer remained confined to the rural people but equally attracted the urban population too who, despite being educated, seem to show a strong preference for the male child and the subsequent avoidance of the female child. The rapid advancement of science and technology proved a boon for these people as this had made the diabolic slaughter of the female child much easier and more sophisticated than before. The benefits of science, as usual, has again been misused by mankind and today by dint of the pre-natal sex determination tests, the female fetuses are selectively aborted. Hence we can say that in the modern era another shameful chapter has been added to the saga of oppression and exploitation meted out to women, in the form of ‘Female Foeticide’. It is indeed heartening that in recent times when India boasts of its scientific achievements and discoveries, when the pages of textbooks are flooded with slogans of ‘Shining India’, women in India are not only facing inequality and inequity in every sphere but they are denied even the right to be born.

What is Female Foeticide?

As a medical term, foeticide is destruction of a fetus [1] . The term ‘Female Foeticide’ may be defined as the elimination of a female foetus at any stage of pregnancy, after determining its sex. It is also defined as killing of female foetus through induced abortion. [2] Hence ‘Female Foeticide’ refers to the process of aborting a foetus if, after undergoing sex determination tests or pre-natal diagnostics tests, it is revealed that the foetus is female. In other words, it implies the barbarous act of killing the girl child in the womb itself, unseen and unheard, only for the fact that she is female.

The misuse of medical science has facilitated the rapid growth of this heinous crime in the society today. A number of medical procedures are carried out to determine the sex of the unborn child such as :

. Amniocentesis

. Ultrasonography

. Foetoscopy

.Chorionic villi biopsy

. Placental tissue sampling etc.

Out of these the most commonly used sex-determination test is amniocentesis. It was meant to be used as an aid to detect any abnormality in the unborn child. But over the years, especially since 1978, amniocentesis has become a widely used test by doctors to determine the sex of the foetus between 14-18 weeks of pregnancy.

The ultrasound technique has also gained huge popularity. The trans-vaginal sonography has enabled to determine the sex of a foetus within 13-14 weeks of pregnancy and through abdominal ultrasound, sex determination is possible within 14-16 weeks.

Whatever be the method employed, the reality is that these methods have made sex determination quite easier and cheaper, thereby encouraging the growth of Female Foeticide at a high rate.

Reasons for High Rate of Female Foeticide in India:

It has been widely accepted nowadays that girls are emotionally more attached to parents, more responsible in society and by no means less competent than boys. However withstanding all this, the typical orthodox Indian attitude accompanied with several socio-economic-cultural factors pervading in the society has always upheld the need of male child and disfavored the birth of girl child in the family. This has immensely contributed to the rampant growth of female foeticide in the country, thus making India one of the worst nations in the world plagued with skewed sex ratio. The most prominent factors encouraging Female Foeticide in India are listed below:

i) Religious factors: The Hindu religion lays great stress on the birth of a son. In a Hindu patriarchal society it is the son who continues the family lineage or ‘Vansh’. According to Manu, a man cannot attain moksha unless he has a son to light his funeral pyre. Also, it says a woman who gives birth to only daughters may be left in the eleventh year of marriage. [3] Such gender biased customs and practices in the traditional Hindu society has over-emphasized the birth of sons and discouraged the birth of girl child in the family, thus paving the way for Female Foeticide.

ii) Evil of Dowry: Dowry is essentially one of the factors which has encouraged the practice of Female Foeticide to a great extent. Parents find it a better option to avoid the female fetuses itself than to pay exorbitant rates in the form of ‘dowry’ while marrying off their daughters. Hence in order to escape from dowry people desperately go for sex selection tests and eliminate the female foetus. To most of the couples, especially the middle-class ones, it appears that ‘paying Rs. 500 at present is better than to pay Rs.5,00,000 in future’. Conversely, the boy is viewed an asset to fetch fabulous dowry for the parents. Hence boys are naturally preferred to girls.

iii) Financial Dependence of Females on Husband or In laws: In India, the socio-economic background has also been the villain behind the tragic female foeticide. Certain communities want to get rid of female child compelled by the circumstances of dehumanizing poverty, unemployment, superstition and illiteracy.

iv) Secondary status of women in society: It is generally expected that sons would carry the family lineage forward, provide security and care to parents especially in old age, enhance family wealth and property and perform the last rites and rituals. Whereas daughters would go to another’s house draining out all the family wealth. Moreover they always need to be protected, defended and taken care of , thus imposing an extra burden over the family. Such conservative attitude of the Indian society which essentially regards women a ‘burden’ is one of the most potent factors which has induced strong son preference and hence encouraged Female Foeticide.

All this factors clearly point out that the ever existing gender biasness in our country favoring the male and the stereotype notion of women as ‘burden’ is the primary cause acting behind the shocking statistics of Female Foeticide in India.

Genesis and Growth of Female Foeticide in India:

The Chilling Reality

The devil of Female Foeticide first crept into the Indian society through the corridors of the northern states which engaged in gross misuse of amniocentesis. Amniocentesis first started in India in 1974 as a part of a sample survey conducted at the All India Institute of Medial Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, to detect foetal abnormalities. These tests were later stopped by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), but their value had leaked out by then and 1979 saw the first sex determination clinic opening in Amritsar, Punjab. Even though women organizations across the country tried their best to put a stop to this new menace, but were helpless because of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 which permitted the amniocentesis test as it claimed to be used for detection of foetal abnormalities,. According to the MTP Act, if any abnormality is detected between 12 to 18 weeks of gestational period in the foetus, an abortion can be legally carried out up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. [4] Owing to this provision, amniocentesis could not be banned and its gross misuse continued. Although responding to the situation certain legal steps had been initiated by the government, however, the evil of Female Foeticide could not be curbed out but rather with the passage of time it has become all the more sdangerous. Today the issue of Female Foeticide in India is no longer only an issue of violation of women’s rights only but rather it has become a chronic disease. It has become so widespread all over the country today that day by day we are actually inching closer to a nation without women. Weird it may sound, but the shocking statistics revealing the distorted sex ratio in our country compel us to accept this truth.

According to the United Nations an estimated 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India. Another glaring example is the demographic profile of India which clearly indicates the profoundness and wide spread prevalence of female foeticide. India is a country of 102.7 crore population, out of which 53.1 crores is of males and 49.6 crores is of females, clearly indicating a deficit of 3.5 crore women. The sex ratio is 933 women /1000 men and child sex ratio is 927 girls for 1000 boys [5] . The intensity of this heinous crime in our country is revealed by the following figures