An embarrassing and distressing trend was confirmed in the most recent Indian census, reports the Globe and Mail: female fetuses in India are being aborted at rates higher than ever before.
India has a massive population, currently at 1.21 billion people or 17% of the world’s population, resident on approximately 2.4% of the world’s surface area. Due to long-held societal biases against daughters, female fetuses and children are at greater risk than ever before. Since the last census, the ratio of girls to boys 6 and younger has dropped to 914 girls per 1,000 boys, down from 927 girls to 1,000 boys in the previous census. (The global female to male birth rate is 950 girls to every 1000 male boys). This number is the national average, meaning in some areas of India the ratio is far worse – one area of India reports a horrifying ratio of 883 girls to 1000 boys.
Why is this happening?
The reasons for this trend are complex. In India, tradition still demands parents of daughters pay an expensive dowry upon marrying, despite the fact that it is illegal. For that reason as well as the widely held view that girls are simply less desirable than boys girls are being aborted, killed at birth, or simply not being given adequate care as infants or young children like never before, meaning that fewer and fewer girls are surviving early childhood.
Indian government has attempted to take measures to quell this trend. Prenatal gender determination has been illegal since 1994. The government provides incentives to the parents of girl babies, such as financial payments at birth, provision of girls with bicycles and access to funds for secondary education, and even regular payments to the family intended to offset the costs of a future dowry.
Nothing seems to work
However, these measures have met with almost no success in the face of tradition and long-held biases. The laws meant to protect female fetuses and babies are simply not being enforced: not only are the gender determination laws being ignored, the health ministry actually registered only 107 cases of female feticide in 2010. Given that scientists believe over 10 million female lives have been lost to abortion and sex selection in the last 20 years, this number is almost farcical.
As is the case in China, having a male-dominated population can cause serious societal issues, including having males who are unable to find a woman to marry. This can lead to antisocial behaviour, and place heavier and heavier burden on children to support their parents, when they themselves are less likely to have a family to support them in turn.
The question becomes: What will happen to India as the years pass and they have fewer and fewer girls?
Photo credit: mynameisharsha on Flickr
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