No graves for millions of aborted baby girls

23 03 2011

Female foeticide awareness movement

If I lived in India, I wouldn’t know my name. If I lived in India, I wouldn’t know what my father looked like or hear the sound of my mother’s voice. If I lived in India, I wouldn’t see the color of the sky or feel the coolness of the rain – because, if I lived in India, I probably would have never been born.

Although the killing of women exists in many different manifestations in societies across the world, Indian society has created some unique and particularly cruel versions. One of the most extreme forms is female foeticide, where female fetuses are selectively aborted after pre-natal sex determination, in order to avoid the birth of girls. As a result of these abortions, between 35 and 40 million girls and women are missing from the Indian population, according to Indu Grewal and J. Kishore. In some parts of the country, the sex ratio of girls to boys has dropped significantly, with less than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys (International Humanist and Ethical Union).

The practice of female foeticide is derived from the Indian dowry system, where women are viewed as financial burdens. When a woman marries, her family must pay the groom’s family a significant sum as a gift for the groom accepting the woman as his bride. Thus, a man is seen as a moneymaker for his family, while a woman is condemned as a costly investment with no reward. Additionally, the Hindu religion, practiced by a vast majority of Indians, greatly favors men over women. “The birth of a son is regarded as essential in Hinduism and many prayers and lavish offerings are made in temples in the hope of having a male child,” said Grewal and Kishore. “Modern medical technology is used in the service of this religion-driven devaluing of women and girls.”

The advent of new medical technologies has greatly aided in this barbaric ritual. In the 1970’s private fetus determination clinics began to pop up all over India as ultrasound equipment became more advanced. With this trend came the process of selective abortion, and it has only grown in popularity, especially with more affluent women.“Worryingly, the trend is far stronger in urban rather than rural areas, and among literate rather than illiterate women, exploding the myth that growing affluence and spread of basic education alone will result in the erosion of gender bias,” said Grewal and Kishore.

Medical professionals are not immune to this detrimental thinking. They encourage their patients to undergo selective abortions and will risk malpractice claims to perform the operation. A woman who chooses not to proceed is not only shunned by her doctor, but by all of society.

While Indian culture perpetuates this practice, the impact on society cannot be overlooked. Though this practice should be banned for many reasons related to violations of women’s rights, there are also practical implications. China, another country that has a prevalence of selective abortions has begun to calculate the risks of this practice. According to Chinese estimates, by 2020 there are likely to be 40 million unmarried young men in China, because of the adverse sex ratio.” A society with a preponderance of unmarried young men is prone to particular dangers,” said Grewal and Kishore. “More women are likely to be exploited as sex workers. Increases in molestations and rape are an obvious result. The sharp rise in sex crimes in Delhi have been attributed to the unequal sex ratio.”

India's current president, Pratibha Patil. Photo Courtesy of

Though there have been attempts at legislation against female feticide, there has been little success in eliminating this practice, as Indian society is deeply steeped in beliefs of female inferiority. However, hope lies in the current president of India, Pratibha Patil.

“Today, there are fewer women in India than men, and if this trend continues it would have negative impact on the society itself,” said Patil in a recent speech. “Women, particularly already those empowered, can be an effective voice for articulating women related causes, including in the fight against social evils like female foeticide, child marriage, dowry and addictions as well as against the discrimination and biases that exist in society against women,” said Patil.

Patil is aiming to make female empowerment through the destruction of practices like female feticide a priority in her service to the country. To do this, she must first convince women that they have a place in society and that they have a choice against selective abortions. Then comes the biggest challenge – changing views that have been present since the founding of the country. Hopefully she can prevail where others have been unsuccessful. Though many are fighting against her empowerment platform, I believe that this woman can do what a man couldn’t: inspire a nation of women to unshackle their own chains.