A killing obsession


The more things change the more they remain the same. If the aborted female foetus could speak, this is probably what she would say. It is unfortunate, shameful and amounts to cold blooded murder but the fact is that despite all these years of education and progress, and so called forward thinking many Indian families are still killing their girl child in the womb because a boy is what they want.

The figures collaborate this. The 2011 census shows that the overall child sex ratio for girls between 0-6 years of age fell to 914 girls per 1000 boys. A research study published in the journal Lancet says that the number of selective abortions of girls rose from 2.0 million in the 1980s to 1.2 to 4.1 million in the 1990s and 3.1 to 6.0 million in the 2000s. Nor surprisingly, selective abortion was seen most in families who already had a daughter, and discovered another girl child on the way.

And so do gynaecologists. “Drugs like Misoprostol are available across the counter with any chemist at about Rs 5 a tablet,” says Dr Geetu Gaba, a specialist in Dada Dev Maitri Avam Shishu Chikitsalaya, Government of Delhi. “A woman who wants to abort needs to take it every four hours six to seven times. Either she will abort or a doctor will be forced to abort her baby. Even if you have to take it ten times, you need only Rs 30 to kill a girl child.”  Dr Gaba is one of an increasing number of gynaecologists who have taken an oath to save the girl child. These doctors called Girl Child Champions then go to counsel other doctors to convince them to refuse abortions of female foetuses. “As doctors we are trying to stop it but when you are sitting without work in your clinic, doing abortions is a big carrot dangling in front of your eyes,” she says.

Dr Gaba says she gets pregnant patients who come to her a few times and then disappear when she refuses to carry out an abortion. “When I see them next, they are not pregnant. So, obviously they have got the baby aborted somewhere else”. And this, she says is not restricted to lower or lower middle class families. Even educated people think on these lines. “If the first child is a boy, they will be happy to have a girl child and no one will go in for a sex determination test. However, if the the first child is a girl they would like to go in for the test.”

Dr Gaba recounts how a Jain woman from an upper middle class family in south Delhi who drives around in a Mercedes came to her after having a daughter and asked her why she had not done the needle test on her to determine the sex of the foetus. A test called the Chorionic Villous Biopsy can tell you the sex of the baby before three months of pregnancy and apparently this is common knowledge, she says.

“The President of our country is a woman, the speaker is a woman, the leader of the ruling party is a woman, so many of our states have or have had female chief ministers. But despite having role models in front of us, Indians still prefer a boy to a girl. Families that actually think of a boy and a girl the same way are very few. The majority still prefer a boy child because they feel he will carry forward the name of the family and look after parents in their old age while the girl will get married and go to another family,” says retired Brigadier BS Bisht. “We see so many examples before us that girls remain emotionally attached to their parents even after they get married while it is the boys who tend to go away or just be there out of a sense of duty, but people don’t seem to understand this,” he adds.

A vague law

The government implemented the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1996 to prevent the misuse of technologies for the purpose of prenatal sex determination leading to selective abortion of girls. The law on abortion has banned sex determination tests and selective abortion but it is a very vague rule and one that can be easily bent. According to it, MTP is to be done under the following circumstances: If the baby is congenitally malformed. If the pregnancy is causing emotional trauma to the mother. If it is a pregnancy caused by rape. Or, if it is a pregnancy caused by contraceptive failure.  How does one prove contraceptive failure? And having a girl child could cause emotional trauma to the mother. So it is very difficult to draw a line.

A small change

“For many of our generation there is no difference between a girl and a boy child,” says homemaker Taru Pundir, 33. Taru and her sibling Ritu never had a brother. “Out parents never let us feel we were any different from boys so we believe the same,” she says. But she agrees that people like her and her sister are very few even in her generation. “When I had a baby my mother-in-law was very happy that it was a boy. I’ve seen so many so called modern, well educated women also ready to undergo risk to their own lives to have a male child. It will take a very long time for people’s thinking to change. Education does not seem to be making much difference,” she says.

Women are still oppressed in places like Haryana, Punjab, Bihar and Rajasthan. Being the parents of a girl here means a life time of expenditure (dowry, gifts etc) and humiliation since the boy’s side is considered superior.  Besides this, the newspapers are full of stories of rape, harassment, dowry deaths and murder of women. This is one more reason why people wouldn’t want to have a girl child.

Right from laws to their administration to thinking to crime prevention: so many things need to change if we want the sex ratio to change. Doesn’t look like it will happen anytime in the near future.

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