Born to be killed or neglected

Born to be killed or neglected

SORRY PLIGHT

While India has made great strides in the economic and social sectors, its female children continue to be treated poorly, rues K S James

HISTORICAL NEGLECT Girl children have always been a neglected lot in the country, as parents consider them a burden on the family.  (Pic used for representation only)

Society at large is shocked at the recent instances of cruelty against female children in India. The case of Neha Afreen, killed by her father for being born a girl portrays how unsafe our country is for girl children. There are other such shocking instances in the recent past shaking the minds of many. Whether the case of a father trying to kill his three minor daughters by thrashing them with a stick after hanging them from a ceiling fan in Haryana, or the husband killing his wife for giving birth to a third baby girl or the horrific tale of baby Falak in Delhi, these are all sordid instances of brutality inflicted upon female children by those to whom they are to look for care and love. Society mourns when listening to such incidents, but fails to understand that these are not merely stray incidents, and that thousands of female children have to undergo such serious neglect and ordeal almost on a daily basis. For many families in India girl children are unwanted.

What is, perhaps, more astonishing is that such cruelty takes place when it is believed that India is on a high growth path both in economic and social terms. Educational levels in the country and particularly of the females are on the rise. More and more females are currently entering  the labour market at least in major cities.
At the same time, such shameful human neglect, discrimination and violence are also unleashed towards hapless female children. Does, socio-economic progress fail to provide an outlook of respect towards human lives irrespective of gender? The answer to this question is complex but necessitate a careful reflection.

The National Family Health Survey carried out during 2005-06 among married men and women indicated strong son preference existing among both men and women in the country. Overall, the average ideal family size of 2.3 children reported by women aged 15-49 consisted of 1.1 sons, 0.8 daughters. Twenty-two per cent of women want more sons than daughters, but only three per cent want more daughters than sons.

Historical

Female neglect in India is not a new phenomenon. Female children have been unwanted as the parents consider them as a burden to the family. A consistent decline in the sex ratio of the population was recorded during most part of last century. The sex ratio which was 972 females per 1000 males in 1901 has declined to 930 by 1971. After a small increase in the 1981 census it further dipped to 927 by 1991. Although it has marginally gone up to 940 in 2011, it is far less than the normal anticipated ratio of over 1000.

In the past, female infanticide has been the strategy to get rid of female children. Several cruel measures have been used to achieve these objectives. The first discovery of female infanticide occurred in the country as early as in 1789 among the Rajput community in Uttar Pradesh. Several parts of north India and some parts of the south were plagued by this menace. Widespread practice of female infanticide was reported from Madurai district of Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Orissa, Rajasthan and Maharashtra in post independent India. Surveys in some parts of Tamil Nadu revealed that more than five per cent of the families reported having practiced female infanticide.

Evidence

With technological advances, female infanticide was replaced by female foeticide. Thus, the female children are no more allowed to be born than born to undergo  daily ordeals. A consistent decline in child sex ratio (less than seven years of age) over the past few decades clearly reveals widespread practice of female foeticide in the country. The 2011 census results showed that there are about 7.1 million fewer girls than boys in the 0-6 age group.  Studies showed that the sex selective abortion of girls have gone up in the country over the last two decades. Around half a million female foetuses are estimated to be aborted each year. Women with a first-order or second-order girls are most clearly at risk of aborting subsequent female foetuses.
Clearly, therefore, the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1996, brought specifically to prevent the misuse of techniques for the purpose of prenatal sex determination miserably failed to make any dent.

Unfortunately, neither the social progress nor the economic advancement reduced the female neglect to a significant extent in the country. Several studies pointed out that female infanticide in the past was practiced primarily by the higher social groups. This appears to be the case of female foeticide as well. The sex selective abortion of girls is more common among the educated and richer households than the poorer sections.

Evidently, therefore, violence, neglect and discrimination of female children are widespread in India. Data indicate that a large section of society is guilty of this discrimination. Socio-economic progress does not appear to alter the scenario as female children remain unwanted within the family due to the prevalence of several social evils like the dowry system. Social systems are complex and difficult to change. However, the moral issues created by such systems need to be brought into the public domain constantly to shake the minds of millions for a genuine change.  

(The writer is Professor, Institute for social and Economic Change, Bangalore)

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