Sex-Selected Abortions Are Killing Hundreds Of Thousands Of Girls In India

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In certain parts of India, girls are shedding the names like ”Nakusa” or “Nakushi”, which means “unwanted”, and are naming themselves after Bollywood stars like “Aishwarya” or Hindu goddesses like ”Savitri” or “Shakti”.  They believe that such names will give them new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination.

By Dr. Bikkar Singh Lalli

“We conservatively estimate that prenatal sex determination and selective abortion accounts for 0.5 million missing girls yearly,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha, director of the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Dr. Prabhat Jha and colleagues published their findings in The Lancet, Volume 378, Issue 9798 (Oct. 2011), a British Journal of Medicine. India’s 2011 census revealed a growing imbalance between the numbers of girls and boys aged 0—6 years, which the researchers believe, is due to increased prenatal sex determination with subsequent selective abortion of female fetuses. The new research also adds weight to a report published last year by the United Nations Population Fund, which warned that infanticide and abortion were driving India toward a gender imbalance with alarming social consequences.

India’s sex ratio, among children aged 0-6 years, has declined from 976 females (for every 1000 males) in 1961 to 914 in 2011. Every national census has documented a marked decline in the ratio. Preliminary data from the 2011 census has recorded many districts with sex ratios of less than 850. The ratio in urban areas is significantly lower than those in rural parts of the country Selective abortion of girls, especially for pregnancies after a firstborn girl, has increased substantially.. Girls are viewed as economic and social burdens because they will eventually marry and leave home, taking a large dowry with them. An Indian maxim states: “Grooming a girl is like watering a neighbour’s garden.” A boy, on the other hand, will one day, bring home a bride and dowry. Although anti-girl bias is usually associated with the rural poor, the study shows it is far more widespread among more well-to-do urban dwellers. “As India gets richer, the situation is going to get worse because wealth would lead to a higher level of access to sex selection technologies,” said Prabhat Jha, whose  study reveals that  wealthy and educated families increasingly are going for abortion of the second girl ch­ild if their first-born also was a girl. Most of India’s population now lives in states where selective abortion of girls is common. It is shocking but not surprising, that in India, 1370 unborn girls are disappearing every day, and there is one dowry death in every 77 minutes.

In certain parts of India, girls are shedding the names like ”Nakusa” or “Nakushi”, which means “unwanted”, and are naming themselves after Bollywood stars like “Aishwarya” or Hindu goddesses like ”Savitri” or “Shakti”.  They believe that such names will give them new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination. In the district of Satara in Maharashtra, a ceremony of renaming of 285 girls was held in order to bring a change in the treatment of girls by their parents.

There are several available means of sex selection. Chorionic villus sampling tests a bit of placenta, which can accurately predict gender at 10 weeks of gestation. Later in the pregnancy, there is the ultrasound, which uses sound waves to produce a sort of moving X-ray. Amniocentesis, an analysis of amniotic fluid, can do the same. Sonography, another technology currently most popular in sex selection, does not come free although it is far cheaper today than when first introduced. Portable sonography machines can be loaded in the back of a car and taken to even smaller towns or larger villages. In the absence of a law or any restraining regulation, those conducting these tests were openly advertising them. Advertisements like “Better 500 now than 50,000 later” were common.

“While women are guaranteed equality under the Constitution, legal protection has little effect in the face of the prevailing patriarchal culture. India needs to confront its gender bias openly. It would appear that nothing short of a social revolution would bring about an improvement in the health and status of women in the country”, says Prof. K.S. Jacob. Because of a prolonged campaign by women’s groups and civil society organizations, the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1994 was brought. However, this statute was not effectively implemented, and the misuse of the technologies continued to ensure the birth of a son. Such misuse cut across barriers of caste, class, religion and geography. The Act was amended in 2003, with the aim of tightening regulation to provide more teeth to the law. It mandated the regulation of sale of technology, the registration of diagnostic centres, the monitoring of medical personnel, procedures and protocols. And yet, the chronic problems like, collusion between people, the medical fraternity and the administration remained unchecked and resulted in the worsening of the sex ratio While strict implementation of the law will help reduce female foeticide and infanticide, it will not tackle socio-cultural issues like patriarchy and bigotry, and usher an egalitarian social order.

Silent cries of the unborn girls are unheard. Even the 3.3 million gods of India are willfully ignoring the tragedy, perhaps they do not want to annoy their generous pujaries.  So, what are the remedies and solutions for bringing a much needed social change? Improved education and wealth is insufficient to make any change in the centuries old attitudes, and address the underlying cause of placing lower value on the lives of girls relative to boys. New approaches to social change that improve women’s and girls’ status need to be identified.  The Prof. Jha recommend better enforcement of the policy against sex-selective abortion. Such approaches presume that increased awareness and policy efforts will adequately affect gender inequities and improve the health and safety of women and girls. “GGGGGText Size      The declining sex ratio cannot be simply viewed as a medical or legal issue. It is embedded within the social construction of patriarchy and is reinforced by tradition, culture and religion. Female foeticide and infanticide are just the tip of the iceberg; there is a whole set of subtle and blatant discriminatory practices against girls and women under various pretexts. It is this large base of discrimination against women that supports the declining sex ratio”, say Prof. Jacob. With the acceptance of patriarchal standards, based on religion or culture, even the most honest people have difficulty being objective.

Perhaps, more grass-roots movements like recently-concluded agitation by Anna Hazare and his supporters for a Jan Lokpal Bill to check corruption,  will create gender equality.. The prevalent patriarchal framework needs to be acknowledged as the villain, and need to be interrogated and laid bare. Discussions on alternative approaches to achieving gender justice are imperative. No Divine Intervention can be expected because the answer to the question: “Did Man made the God or God made the Man?” is still alluding the society.

Dr. Bikkar Lalli is a Surrey-based writer, educationist and member of the UBC Senate.