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Cries of Womb reaching to Tombs: The sad reality of female infanticide and foeticide in India  Suggestions

Abstract: Numerous daughters leave this world without even stepping out of their mother’s womb and the reason for it is that her father and her grandmother think of her as an economic burden and so is left to the ashes just after being born or sometimes in the womb itself. Various studies by national and international organizations show these imbalances in the demography and India has been struggling with this problem due to the mindset of the society and the position of women in it. The ills of dowry and cultural stigmas cause them to take such moves. Mothers are forced to let go of their babies due to the social pressure from their families causing a glaring gender disparity which has various other consequences. This piece talks about such studies and their data and tries to analyze the cause of such problems with some solutions for the same.

Keywords: Female infanticide and foeticide; patriarchy; society

After hours of labour Amita is sitting on the ground with tears rolling down her cheeks and tightly hugging her child to her bosom. Everyone’s expression reflects the unpleasant truth they must confront, which is a blend of despair and resignation. Each whimper of her baby causes Amita’s heart to break as her family forces her to let go of her.

Amita is a representation of lakhs of women present in India who are forced to let go of their girl child or sometimes even worse let go of her when she is in the womb. Some may say that the mother has consented to it but won’t it still be a brutal murder or do we really think pertaining to the socio-order of our society that those mothers had a choice?

These deliberate killings of girl babies and gender selective abortions are termed as female infanticide and foeticide respectively. Any figure above the 103 to 107 males for every 100 females thought to be the natural sex ratio is viewed as suggestive of female feticide. According to data from India’s census, there are now more boys than girls in the 0 to 6 age group than there were in 1961 (102.4 boys for every 100 females).

The child sex ratio is within the natural range in all of India’s eastern and southern states, although it is considerably higher in several western and particularly northwestern states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu, and Kashmir (118, 120, and 116, respectively, as of 2011). The child sex ratio was reported to be 113 in the western states of Maharashtra and Rajasthan in the 2011 census, compared to 112 in Gujarat and 111 in Uttar Pradesh. 

As per the 2020 UNFPA report, nearly 4.6 crore females are “missing” in India. This report defines these “missing females” as the ones where these females were reflected in the sex ratio imbalances at birth. As a result of gender-biased (pre-natal) sex selection and excessive female mortality brought on by post-natal sex selection. 

Professor Anibel Ferus-Comelo, a labour and gender studies in India expert at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, noted that “before technology, newborns used to just be ‘hidden’ because of female infanticides. In the population that cannot afford or does not have access to technology or medical facilities, baby girls are still being murdered. The ability to use ultrasounds for medical diagnostic tests to identify a fetus’s gender during pregnancy emerged in the 1970s. With the aid of high-frequency sound waves, ultrasound may provide precise images of a fetus inside the mother’s uterus that can be used to assess the fetus’ location and health as well as identify any potential issues. However, a tool designed to assist families in getting ready for a new life instead made India’s infanticide problem worse When ultrasound technology became widely used by upper-class and upper-caste society members in the 1990s, it exploded in India and is estimated that due to this technology, India has about 63 million fewer women.         

Getting to know the gender of the baby is a very common practice in the western countries but prenatal sex determination was banned in India except when due to some medical emergency in 1994, under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994.   Why? Well, we all know it. 

But what could be the reason to commit such a gruesome crime? 

Well, the roots of these issues lie in the predominant patriarchal approach of the society of the nation. The notion of the son being the breadwinner of the family who goes out to earn, the shoulder of the parents in their old age, the status symbol in front of the society and the light to continue their family lineage. There are various socio-religious or cultural reasons for them to prefer the sons.

Sau Putra Bhava’‘ and “Doodho Nahao Pootho Phalo ”,  among other blessings, are given to a woman upon her marriage. Such religious blessings also serve as a metaphor for the importance of son choice in modern culture. Many philosophies and traditional religions believe that having a son is necessary for performing religious ceremonies, and the ancient Vedas and Upanishads specify these procedures for the family’s son, with cremation serving as the most significant ceremonial act if did by their son, the parent would be able to reach paradise peacefully  and there is an irony, those exact scriptures treat girl child as the form of Goddess Lakshmi (Laxmi), a lot of households decide to kill the female fetus in order to have a son, who will atone for their sins when they die.

Meanwhile the birth of a girl is seen as a poor investment in the future in India. In Indian patriarchal culture, girls are seen more as consumers than producers, and this constrained viewpoint has led to despicable practices. the social evils of dowry and what not all of it leads to the population of land to prefer sons and thereby killing these innocent females. “While sons offer security to their families in old age and can perform the rites for the souls of deceased parents and ancestors, daughters are perceived as a social and economic burden,” according to a 2022 study of female foeticide in India. The position of women is considered inferior and subservient to men and this stems from the perception that boys are more desirable and valuable than girls reflecting the deep-seated gender bias and discrimination, reinforcing unequal power dynamics and perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

The sex ratio imbalances especially in the northern and northwestern areas of India were getting out of hand and its long-term consequences are still evident as the diminishing sex ratio in Northern and Northwestern Indian states suggests that there is an ongoing bride crisis. The UNICEF report claims that an eligible Jat groom from the Indian state of Haryana travels 3000 kilometers to locate a bride in Kerala, a state that is undoubtedly very different from Haryana in every way socially. This is the sole remaining option to change their single status because there are conspicuously fewer girls in their own state. Other than that, these demographic imbalances will also influence the nation’s social order, and welfare of women. Human trafficking, greater violence against women, and a lack of agency for women are just a few consequences of unbalanced sex ratios. 

Dr. Sabu George is who has been working against female foeticide and infanticide in southern India recently had an interview where he talked about the role of civil society organisations, courts, government and media have in this issue.  He has done a lot of litigation to build jurisprudence on protecting child rights and ensuring better implementation of the laws. He comments that, “In India, while we are very good at making laws, their implementation is really poor, especially social legislation like dowry prohibition and domestic violence.” These issues might demotivate the citizens to take such criminal thinking and murder their own offspring.

Female infanticide and foeticide are both considered as violations of human rights. The right to life, gender equality, non-discrimination, and the rights of children are just a few of the fundamental rights that are violated by these activities. Girls are denied their fundamental rights as well as the chance to live full lives and make a positive contribution to society because of these behaviors. In order to solve these concerns, governments and international organizations have implemented legislative frameworks.

Internationally, The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) clearly defends children’s rights and has been ratified by the majority of nations, including India. It places a strong emphasis on the child’s best interests, non-discrimination, and the right to life and survival and another comprehensive international treaty with the goal of eradicating discrimination against women is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which acknowledges the significance of combating harmful behaviours that damage women, such as female infanticide and foeticide.

And as mentioned before in India, Pregnancy Diagnostic Procedures (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of 1994 forbids the use of prenatal diagnostic methods to identify the foetus’s gender for purposes other than those of medicine. By regulating and overseeing the use of technology that could be used improperly for sex determination, it seeks to avoid female foeticide.

However, the act which was enacted in response to an alarming surge in the gruesome killing of female fetuses utilizing cutting-edge scientific techniques, the results were not evident. The 2011 Census’s child sex ratio of 914:1000 made it evident that concerns exist over the Act’s effectiveness and execution, despite the fact that the child sex ratio has been steadily declining. This law has proven to be both insufficient and ineffective. All of this is the result of the Indian community’s disregard for the Act’s rules and thus the poor application of the law has indirectly contributed to the rise in female foeticide. If the laws had been more stringent and put into practise as intended, many innocent female lives might have been saved. It is really regrettable for our country that foeticide is still permitted despite 68 years of independence and the inclusion of the right to equality in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. The Prohibition of Sex Selection Act has to be properly enforced; hence India should seek to increase its resource allocation Due to their secrecy, female feticide and sex selection crimes are difficult to identify, leading to fewer cases being reported to the courts. Although there have been numerous decoy or sting operations to eliminate the cases and plenty of them have been but there is a long way to go ahead.

Finally, it may be argued that this is more of a social illness than a legal one and thus law alone cannot resolve a problem that has social behavior and bias at its core. A thorough effort involving all elements of society is needed to change the current social mindset and stop gender-based discrimination if the goal of a balanced sex ratio is to be achieved.

South Korea too, like India, has a significantly lopsided sex-ratio, pursued remedies that had encouraging outcomes, and many Indian government officials are now trying to adopt their strategy. They pushed and created chances for more women to enter the workforce, strengthened and strictly enforced laws that forbade female feticide, and they used the media to drum up support for their causes. A similar campaign was started by the government in 2015, but it proved to be unsuccessful. 

There is a need for more comprehensive efforts as the social problems can never be solved until mutually cooperated. It most importantly includes raise awareness and educating the people to uproot their deep-seated patriarchy which may be very difficult to achieve but with the help of liberating education, conducting programmes such as a door to door campaign in the rural area or a meeting of all the panchayat heads to discuss and come to a solution. In the urban areas, maybe more efficient legal aid clinics and support centres for the mothers to report such happenings. As well as implementing schemes for women development to uplift their position in society by giving them access to the resources, making them financially independent, stricter regulations regarding all the social practices of dowry and domestic violence completely and most importantly bridging the gap between the executive and policy making branch so as to actually achieve the set goal of the policy.

There is a lot of pressure on women to be tested and get an abortion if they are found to be female and as majorly women are financially dependent on their families, their position remains submissive and to increase the position of females in a society, the most important variable would be female education. According to studies, being exposed to female leadership causes the gender gap in educational attainment to significantly narrow (32%). Women can have better prospects to enter the workforce and achieve financial independence if they have better access to high-quality education. According to Professor Ferus-Comelo, “economic independence reduces discrimination. These kinds of attitudes would alter if girls and women had equal access to wealth, income, and legal inheritance rights, as well as the ability to be economically independent, which would make them at par and would be able to stand a voice and keep their choice. 

Without a doubt, women now hold greater power in society, but there is still a long way to go before girls and boys are treated equally.

Realizing that having girls in our family would make our lives just as joyous, if not more so, would help us to actually let go of this son’s obsession and the cooperation of all individuals of the society willing to work together to ensure that every young girl is treated with the respect she deserves would be the ultimate solution.

Written By – Anshika Chaudhary ( A second year law student at OP Jindal Global University pursuing BA. LLB.)

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