Combating female infanticide and foeticide

Posted By: Ranjona Banerji|Dated: November 8, 2011

At an event in Mumbai a few years ago, actor Amitabh Bachchan gave a very poignant speech in which he asked the audience how we could congratulate ourselves on being a “superstar” nation when we lose millions of female infants to foeticide and infanticide every year. This is a very relevant question, especially in recent times, when we tend to celebrate shallow victories (such as an Indian standing for political office in the US) while ignoring the several harsh realities of life in India.

Combating female infanticide and foeticide

The sex ratio in India is about 927 girls to every 1000 boys. In many states, like Haryana and Punjab, young men have to spread their nets very wide to look for wives. This situation is similar to the one faced by China when its one child policy led to many female babies being aborted.

The problem, however, is not just about men not finding wives. It’s larger than that: it is about a society which finds it acceptable to murder – there is no polite word for it – female children because it believes that boys are more useful to society and to their parents.

It is common in India to attribute this traditional and conservative thinking to “poor” or rural segments of society. But this thinking is more prevalent elsewhere: in neo-rich areas in big cities and in urban centres where new money has led to an increase in the accumulation of material possessions but not in any larger sense of social awareness. There are certain Indian states where female foeticide is rampant – Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat – and in all these states, the prevalence is higher in rich, urban areas.

A multi-pronged attack is necessary to change this mindset. The first and most obvious approach – practiced by many governments – is to discourage sex determination tests. Although these tests are illegal, rich parents desperate enough for boys have usually found it easy to convince doctors or pathology laboratories to give them the information that they need. While post-pregnancy tests are important to track the health of the foetus, it is easy to misuse the information gleaned from them. Compounding this problem is the fact that abortion is a recognized right for women, allowing much room for grey areas.

This brings us back to the thinking that the female is inferior. Female infanticide – killing the child after it is born – emphasises the depth of prejudices against the female sex in Indian society. It is this same thinking that finds expression in dowry deaths, domestic abuse and, in a larger sense, gender discrimination.

Therefore, along with clamps on the medical community and an increase in government intervention, we need better awareness programmes to educate people about the importance of maintaining a healthy sex ratio. Since wealth, social mobility and conventional education have not led to a change in male-dominated hierarchies, greater effort needs to be made to challenge patriarchal concepts.

The onus lies as much on civil society as it does on the government. Which means it lies on us.

About the author

Ranjona Banerji

Ranjona Banerji has worked for more than 25 years in publications such as Bombay Magazine, India Today, Gentleman, Mid-Day, The Times of India, Ahmedabad and DNA. She is currently a columnist and consulting editor with MxMIndia.

The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.

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  • Nitin

    As you mention the problem needs to be tacked on multiple fronts. One thing that could be tried is the ‘crownsourcing’ of whistle blowing of all such centers(sonography) that do sex determination and disclose it.
    We are working towards such practice and encourage people to share their information on

  • Kiranjohnson

    It is a shame . That girl child are killed in the womb or soon after they are born .  And how pitiable is the situation that a girl child who is killed alive in a home or not given a chance to be even born . Such families are   searching for a bride for their sons !!! No family should give their daughter ‘s hand in marriage to a boy from such a horrible and pathetic family .   

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