Exploring many daughters being abandoned in orphanages. It

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring
Sex Discrimination and Selection through Female Foeticide in India

Joshua
Grace

ARW
350 NAA

Professor
Winston Smith

Seneca
College

 

In
2017, acts such as female infanticide, the killing of a new born infant, and female
foeticide, the killing of a fetus are still widely practiced in many South
Asian countries including India. Patriarchal views of women have been a problem
in India, and must be addressed in order to decrease the practices of female infanticide
and foeticide. Women are seen as financial burdens, because of practices such as
dowry giving, where a bridegroom must be financially compensated. Men are also
more valued, because it is their financial responsibility to take care of
elderly parents, and perform religious funeral rituals.

Some
years ago I remember hearing from one of my teachers about the problem of
son-preference in China which resulted in many daughters being abandoned in
orphanages. 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 learn
more about why this was still being practiced in 2017, and what could be done
to address this issue. The practices of infanticide and foeticide are practiced
on females in India at an alarming rate. One might expect this issue to
have  improved over time as people become
more educated, but that has not been the case. In fact, female infanticide has
decreased, while female foeticide has increased as a result of increased
technology in sex determination. Sugandha Nagpal (2013), citing Patel (2007)
explains this shift and provides some historical background in the article
Sex-selective Abortion in India: Exploring Institutional Dynamics and Responses:

Historically,
in India the elimination of girls was tied to female infanticide. This practice
was limited to upper-class warrior castes, who devalued women due to the
economically draining custom of hypergamy (marriage of a woman with a man from
a higher social group). Contemporarily, the advent and easy accessibility of
sex determination technology (henceforth referred to as SD) has coincided with
the preponderance of sex-selective abortions. In fact, sex-selection has
largely come to replace female infanticide as a method of eliminating females.
(p.19)

In
India, the view of women as second class citizens to men has not changed.
However, since sex determination technology has become more widespread fewer
women are practicing infanticide where the child is eliminated after birth.
This makes sense, as murdering a female baby would likely be much more
traumatic than having an abortion. Either way, the results are the same,
contributing to an uneven sex ratio where men are much more common in India
because they are valued more and not considered economic burdens. Dweepika
Kumari (2015) shows how the sex ratio has continued to decline especially among
younger groups:

The
sex-ratio has declined from 972 females per 1000 males in 1901 to 940 females
in 2011. Though the overall sex-ratio has shown a little improvement during the
past two decades, the child sex-ratio (number of girls per 1000 boys)  has continued its declining trend to reach an
abysmal low of 914. (p.18)

The skewed sex ratio was
first noticed in India when the country was still under British control. The
information came to light after the first census survey was taken in the
country. This was an important discovery but would have little impact on
changing the desire for sons. In fact since it was imposed on the Indian people
by the British it could have the opposite effect. When colonial rule is imposed
on a people it can often lead to increased patriarchal oppression. As Ania
Loomba (2005) points out in Colonialism /
Postcolonialism, “Colonialism intensified patriarchal oppression, often
because native men,  increasingly
disenfranchised and excluded from the public sphere, became more tyrannical at
home. They seized upon the home and the woman as emblems of their culture and
nationality” (p.142). Ania Loomba is describing how colonial rule can take away
the 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 valued
more than women.

            It is important to note that there are many reasons why parents
prefer sons over daughters in India. It is a deep rooted issue that cannot be
changed by merely implementing laws that prevent sex-selective abortion. Practices
such as dowry giving continue to perpetuate the idea that women are financial
burdens in comparison to sons. While the groom or his family will benefit from
being compensated financially, the bride on the other hand is seen as a
financial burden by both families. This is just one of many reasons that men are
preferred over women in India, but if the practice of dowry giving was
eliminated 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 both
financially and with security. As Kumari (2015) points out, “The aged parents
also need protection from the anti-social elements e.g. in case of attempt of
usurpation of family property, theft etc. All this leads to a strong
son-preference among the women.” (p.24). Related to this issue is the fear
mothers have for the safety of their daughters, being brought up in a place where
skewed sex ratios can result in increased violence towards women. Despite the
negative views towards women, that resulted in an uneven sex ratio in the first
place, women can further become targets of violence as this gap widens. With
fewer women in India, more men will be without wives and the stability that comes
with a family. The negative effect this has on Indian males can result in increased
mental, physical, and sexual violence towards women. Nehaluddin Ahmad (2010) in
the article Female Foeticide in India
points out the negative effects of a skewed sex ratio:

With
female feticide continuing at its current pace, ten percent of the male
population will have to remain unmarried, not experiencing the joys of
intimacy, family life, or raising children. With ten percent of men leading
emotionally vacuous lives, they may become societal nuisances, possibly turning
to crime. With a shrinking pool of marriageable females, the Hindustan Times recently reported that
young girls from Assam and West Bengal are being kidnapped and sold into
marriage in neighboring Haryana. (p.23)

This shows an uneven sex
ratio due to female foeticide will not only have negative repercussions for
individual females but also for individual males and society as a whole in
India. Patriarchal views that lead to the foeticide of females will only lead
to more violence against females. It will also lead to more deviant behaviour
by men who feel alienated in society.

Another
factor that drives the preference for sons over daughters in India is the religious
belief that sons must be involved in funeral rituals. The views are that sons
must 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 other
funeral rites. Only then can the parents attain ‘moksha’ or ‘paith’. Also, the
holy scriptures allow only the sons to perform the ‘pind-daan’ to the
forefathers” (p.24). India is a very religious country that has many people
practicing Hinduism. Since it is written in the scriptures that sons must perform
these funeral rituals it leads to a preference for sons over daughters. Although
economic factors clearly play a significant role in the preference for sons, it
is a complex issue that cannot be linked to one cause. Religious factors have
contributed to the preference for sons.

            Some women willingly choose to commit female foeticide in
India 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 daughters
can lead family members to pressure their daughters to abort female foetuses. From
a Western perspective we must keep this in mind before passing judgement on the
women who are victims in this cycle. Sugandha Nagpal (2013) shows the danger of
focusing on a single feminist perspective:

The
liberal pro-choice feminist position fails to consider the way in which various
social conditions (i.e., the pressure to bear a son, women’s reliance on the
ability 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-choice
feminist discourse serves to reduce Indian women’s reproductive choice to a
matter of cultural preference. (p.24)

It is not the case that Indian
women prefer sons solely because of cultural preferences; many are pressured by
family members. If women do not listen to their husbands or direct family they
risk being mistreated or shunned altogether. Women in these situations must
also be worried about how an unwanted daughter will be treated by a family who
pressured for a son. An unwanted daughter that is born could possibly face
abuse by family members. In complex situations like this women may feel it is
better to abort a female foetus rather then give birth to a child who could
face possible neglect or abuse.  The
criminalization of sex selective abortion can also lead to  further problems for females as Lisa Eklund
and Navtej Purewal (2016), citing Ganatra (2008) state, “The economic, social,
and cultural dynamics which produce bias against females must be part of the strategy
to combat sex selection, rather than a narrow criminalization of abortion which
endangers women’s access to safe reproductive health services” (p.50). The
criminalization of sex selective abortion in India is not enough to prevent
these procedures from occurring. It also can put women in danger as they cannot
legally seek the health services they need. They may have to turn to non-licensed
medical professionals which could seriously risk their health. Portraying women
as criminals for this is also unfair considering the pressure on them and
complexity of the situation. An approach must be made to try and change some of
the social biases and patriarchy against women.

            It is important to look at what strategies have been used
to combat the skewed sex ratio in India as a result of female foeticide. By
looking 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 the
lives of women in India. Concerned with a growing number of aborted female
foetuses, India implemented the PNDT Act, as described by Arindam Nandi (2015),
” Faced with growing concern over such abortions and the resultant gender
imbalance, India implemented a ban on foetal sex determination in 1994 through
the Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (PNDT) Act” (p.466). This law does not
make abortion illegal; however, it does make it illegal to use technology to
determine whether the foetus is female. This law clearly has good intentions to
protect females in India, however it ignores the social dynamics that result in
son preference. It also ignores the fact that people will continue to have
children until they have a son, in which case female children could be
neglected. The PNDT act is not necessarily a failure but did fail to address
the bigger social issues. However it did have some positive results as Nandi
(2015) points out:

We
find 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 in
all 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 would
have been higher. (p.476)

It appears to be a law
that could help the sex ratio in the long term, if other strategies are taken
to change the social preference for sons. However, it will not be an easy task
to change the biases towards women and will be a long continuous process. It is
also a problem that this law seems to have not been taken seriously and has not
been properly enforced by officials. The law cannot serve as a deterrent when
very few people actually get prosecuted for sex-selective abortion.
Nehaluddin  Ahmad (2010) points out this
reality in his article Female Feticide in
India:

Despite
these statutory provisions, due to lack of proper enforcement, female feticide is
still widely practiced and very few cases are prosecuted. The irony of the
situation is that in the 14 years since India enacted the Pre-Natal Diagnostic
Technologies (PNDT) Act, with countless thousands of female lives terminated in
utero for convenience sake, not a single person was convicted until very
recently. (p.26)

Certainly it is an issue
that this law has not been taken seriously by officials with the authority to
enforce the law. However the author makes a generalization, because women are
not getting these abortions merely out of convenience. These women have many
pressures placed on them and should not be viewed in a negative light.               

            Another strategy that was used to try and even out the
sex ratio in India was to further educate women. The belief was that if they
could increase literacy among females the sex ratio would gradually improve. It
was believed through increased literacy and  freedom from the control of men women would
make the choice to have female children. However as Kumari (2015) states, “The
Sex-ratio in India is continuously declining in spite of gradually increasing
literacy among women” (p.18). It is not enough to increase literacy among women
because there are still financial, religious and cultural pressures to birth
sons. Unless the social issues are addressed policies will not be enough to
prevent son preference in India.

            Legal intervention and policies have helped to slow down
the process but have certainly not gone far enough in combating the issue of a
disproportionate sex ratio, as a result of female foeticide in India. Policies
must be introduced that will change biases towards women that deem them as
financial burdens and inferior to men. If attitudes towards females can be
changed, India will slowly be able to improve their sex ratio. Increased
employment of women is one way this could be combatted. Eliminating the
practice of dowry giving would also help by putting less pressure on women and
their parents. As Kumari (2015) points out, “Promoting and highlighting the
rising gender equality through ad-campaigns. Anti-dowry campaigns and giving
boost to girl education and female employment is an effective method to nullify
the negative mind set of a girl as a burden” (p.27). Education alone has not
been an effective tool to combat the issue, but if women receive more work
opportunities in India it could help. Men may be more likely to see women as
economic contributors instead of viewing them as economic burdens. This will be
a long continuous approach and will not necessarily solve the problem, however
as Nagpal (2013), citing Ganatra (2008) explains, “In South Korea, policy initiatives
and laws facilitated greater female workforce participation in high value jobs,
higher rate of female education, old age security schemes and women’s rights
and responsibilities in their natal house post-marriage” (p.32). India will
obviously have to approach this in a different way than South Korea because of
the differences between the two nations. However it is good to know, that approaches
are available that can help to bring an end to discrimination of females in India.

 Other laws have also been implemented to try
to reduce discrimination towards females. However, they must be enforced, as
Nandi (2015) explains, “In 2005, a new national Protection of Women from
Domestic Violence Act was implemented, which may also improve the status of
women and young girls in Indian households” (p.476). This law could prove
helpful if it is enforced but more must be done to end the stigma towards females
on a social level. A useful approach could be for local organizations to try
and spread awareness in communities. If girls and women are given more
opportunities, people will see they can contribute in many ways. A good example
of 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 in
publicizing various women’s issues through the press, including dowry related
murders, rape, and selective abortion of female foetuses” (p.1). Talking about
the 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 up
and try to encourage change.

It
is clear there is no easy solution to female infanticide and more commonly female
foeticide. Religious traditions, social dynamics and views that deem women as
financial burdens  all contribute to the
growing problem. Laws have been implemented that have helped in certain ways;
however, they have also put women at risk. Many women are pressured into committing
these acts out of fear they or their future daughter will be abused. If laws
are implemented that will help protect women and not demonize them they should
be enforced. Further, more should be done at a local social level to bring
awareness to the problem and how it will negatively affect India as a whole. If
the patriarchal views cannot be changed then policies and laws will only go so
far in protecting women in India.  

           

 

 

 

References

Ahmad, N. (2010). Female
Feticide in India. Issues in Law &
Medicine, 26 (1), 13-29.

Eklund,
L., & Purewal, N. (2017). The bio-politics of population control and sex-selective
abortion in China and India. Feminism
& Psychology, 27 (1), 34-55.

Kumari,
D. (2015). Autonomy of educated urban women and their attitude towards female
foeticide in India. Human Geographies- Journal of Studies and Research in Human
Geography, 9 (1),17-28.

Loomba, A. (2005). Colonialism / Postcolonialism Second Edition. New York: Routledge.

Luthra,
R. (1999). The Women’s Movement and the Press in India: The Construction of
Female Foeticide as a Social Issue. Women’s
Studies in Communication, 22 (1), 1-24

Nandi,
A. (2015). The Unintended Effects of a Ban on Sex-Selective Abortion on Infant
Mortality: Evidence from India. Oxford
Development Studies, 43 (4), 466-482.

Nagpal,
S. (2013). Sex-selective Abortion in India: Exploring Institutional Dynamics
and Responses. Mcgill Sociological Review 3 (February), 18-35.