Dangerous trend

Contrary to expectations that improved literacy and economic prosperity would make Indians less willing to get rid of their girl child, it appears that sex selective abortion after a first child is highest in wealthy, educated households. A study by a group of Indian and Canadian researchers has revealed that when the first born is a boy there is no decline in the girl-boy ratio. However, when the first child is a girl, a steep decline in the ratio of girls to boys is evident. The figures speak for themselves. Between 1990 and 2005 the sex ratio of second births declined from 906 per 1,000 boys to 836 when the first born is a girl. What is particularly shocking is that the decline is more precipitous among educated and rich families than in illiterate and poor households. Although son preference exists in all sections of Indian society, including the diaspora community, it is the better off that have access to and can afford ultra-sound tests to reveal the sex of the foetus. According to the study, around 12 million girls were aborted in India over the past 30 years and the shortfall in the number of girls under six to boys has grown dramatically from 4.2 million in 1991 to 6 million in 2001 and 7.1 million this year.
It has often been argued that poverty drives people to get rid of their girl child, the argument being that since parents have to pay heavy dowry for a daughter and since she goes away to her husband’s home after marriage, a girl is looked upon as a burden who is best gotten rid of even before she is born. Hence the sex-selective abortions. However, the issue is clearly far more complex. Sex-selective abortions are prompted not so much by poverty as property. People are anxious that their land and other assets will go to their son-in-law instead of remaining within their family and hence the desperation for a male heir.

That the richer and better educated are the worst offenders when it comes to committing female foeticide dashes hopes that socio economic progress and education would lead to a change in attitudes. However, being able to read and write or being highly educated does not by itself inculcate social awareness or the right attitudes. Problems like female foeticide and gender discrimination have their roots in patriarchical mindsets which needs to be tackled to end female foeticide.

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