“Life offers no greater responsibility and no better privilege than raising a girl child!”

Introduction

There are innumerable social evils existing in the Indian society. Women/Girls, who were once glorified as an epitome of Shakti (Power), are facing huge inequalities today. One of those it the anxious desire of most Indian orthodox families to have a son. It is really disturbing to know that there are so many female foetuses brutally murdered in the womb to fulfil that one selfish greed of begetting a male child, thereby depriving them their Right to Life. This practice is commonly known as FEMALE FOETICIDE.

Meaning and Origin

It is the illegal procedure of intentionally aborting the female foetus before birth from the mother’s womb. Earlier girls were killed after birth (Female Infanticide) by adding opium in milk or by suffocation/starvation, but now with technological advancements there are deaths even before births. Its origin can be linked to the arrival of medical techniques like, 1.Ultrasonography Scan: Generally done in the first trimester of pregnancy. If the genital tubercle turns downwards then the foetus is detected to be of a female and vice versa; 2.Chronic Villi Biopsy: Actually meant to diagnose diseases but is misused today and 3.Amniocentesis: Meant to detect chromosomal abnormalities but slowly was used for sex selective abortions. Illegal clinics and doctors began offering these techniques to discover the sex of the child. If it was a girl, then the pregnancy was called off thereon. This kind of blind killing led to a dangerous situation bringing a deep shame to the entire mankind.

Just because she is a Girl? : Causes of Female Foeticide

The first vital cause to brace hatred towards a girl is the cultural preference of males over females in our society. Often the daughter in law is pressurized and subjected to violence by her husband or in laws to produce a son as he is considered as a status symbol. She is threatened with abortion or abandonment from the marriage. A woman is always blessed by adults with pronouncements like “Doodho Nahao Puto Falo” (May you blossom with milk) and “Ashtha Putra Bhava” (God bless you with a boy).This marks their typical mindset which slits beyond all boundaries whether rich/poor or literate/ illiterate.  A general belief exists that a girl cannot push on her father’s lineage as after marriage everything changes, right from her home to her maiden name. Among Hindus, the son has to perform his father’s funeral rites for his father to attain salvation. He is expected to earn money and look after his parents. The evil tradition of dowry is contributing largely towards this menace, thereby making girls an economic burden. The widespread increase in rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence put many families under a continuous terror. Another fuelling factor is the increased corruption in the medical field. Medical staff and many doctors, engaging into this dirty business have forgotten their ethics.

Let her see the world: Consequences

Over the years there has been a huge disproportion in the sex ratio. According to the United Nations Report, an estimated 45.8 million girls are missing from India’s population. The Census 2001 notified that there are only 933 women in India per 1000 men. The Census 2011 revealed a significant drop in the Child Sex Ratio (0-6 years age group -918 girls per 1000 boys) and also an increase in the dowry deaths (8618 cases). Due to scarcity of girls in many states (Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan) many of them are trafficked for the purpose of marriage. There is an increase in maternal deaths due to forced and repeated abortions and child marriages. The suicide rate has also doubled since their mental health is also smashed. It’s distressing to know that some women approve the same frame of mind. In Punjab 48.2 % women feel that there is no harm in sex selective abortion as sons are a necessity. As far as the education is concerned the ratio difference between Male and Female literacy rate is more than 20%. Even if daughters go to school they are charged with domestic work leading to enormous dropout rates. 

Heart wrenching stories from the wombs

India has a long term record of wild cases. In 2009, 15 female foetuses were found in the drains of Beed district of Maharashtra which were half eaten by dogs. In 2012 in Indore, 8 female foetuses were located near a lake. This is really scary as it is happening on the level of genocide. In another instance a new born baby died as she was wrapped with wet cloth after birth. The latest shocking incident which caught light was in October 2019 in Uttar Pradesh, where a baby was found alive, buried in an earthen pot. 

“He grabbed onto me and chewed my face like an animal!” said Parveeen Khan; her husband abused her when she gave birth to their second daughter.

“Every time I would feel as if I am killing an innocent who was not at fault!” said Anisha who was forced to abort 6 times in a period of 8 years.

“My mother in law always tells me that water from our well always produces boys!” says Rewati from Rajasthan who is expecting for the 4th time.

Legislative approach

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, legalised abortion, but ‘only’ in case there was a medical risk to the mother or child. However this law was misinterpreted and misused. Later, The Pre Conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 was passed with an objective to prevent and prohibit sex determination and sex selective abortions. It mandates the registration of genetic clinics and ultrasound machines. It provides for an imprisonment up to 5 years and fine of 1 lakh. However its implementation has failed to a large extent. To dodge the law several clinics are using different ways to convey the sex of the child. Photographs of Gods and Goddesses are used to communicate messages. In one of the clinics in Gujarat it was reported that if it is a boy the doctor greeted the parents with “Jai Shri Krishna” and if it is a girl then, “Jai Mata Di”.The Indian Penal Code, 1860 also contains certain provisions pertaining to abortion and miscarriage. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was also passed to combat the heinous practice but did not receive the anticipated success. 

Judicial initiatives

The Supreme Court expressed grave concern on discrimination against girls and ordered to ban all advertisements relating to pre natal sex determination techniques. It held that the Right to life under Article 21 cannot include the Right to select sex as it is against the spirit of law and Constitution. The court also held that registration of the machines will be cancelled and a criminal action will be initiated against all those involved in the process. It passed orders to seize and confiscate the illegal Sonography machines.

A long way ahead: Conclusion and Recommendations

In India a girl is neither safe inside the womb or outside it. Can we imagine a world without women? The answer is ‘NO.’ Then why is it so difficult for us to acknowledge their existence. No doubt the media and the government has taken commendable steps to make a difference through various movies, television series, rallies and schemes like Ladli laxmi and Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao Andolan. Despite these efforts every day around 2333 girls are killed. Nothing is working as expected. The laws should be made flawless with stringent punishments because in India the conviction rate is very low. Strategies like public awareness, educating girls and providing them with employment to make them self-sufficient can work to a great length. Many girls have already crossed hurdles posed by stereotypes and exclusion. Obviously this evil won’t be destroyed in one shot. It is a matter of time because the gender biased nature of the society needs to be completely uprooted. We need to remember that girls can be strong representatives of freedom and as Sir Nelson Mandela has rightly said that, “True freedom cannot be achieved unless women are emancipated from all sorts of oppression!”

1.https://theprint.in/india-accounts-for-45-8-millions-of-worls-missing-females-over-last-50-years-un-report/451545/ (last visited Nov. 11, 2020).

 2.https://censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/India_at_glance/fsex.aspx (last visited Nov.10, 2020).

 3.https://censusindia.gov.in/2011-common/censusdata2011.html( last visited Nov.10, 2020).

4.https://censusindia.gov.in/2011-common/censusdata2011.html (last visited Nov. 10, 2020). 

5.The Indian Penal Code, 1860, §312-318, No.45, Imperial Legislative Council, 1860 (India).

6.Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT) v. Union of India, (2003) 8 SCC398.

7.INDIA CONST.art.21.

8.Vinod Soni v. Union of India, (2005) Cri.L.J.Bom.3408.

9.Vijay Sharma v. Union of India, AIR (2008) BOM 29.

10.Chitra Agarwal v. State of Uttaranchal, AIR (2006) Utr.78.

11.Voluntary Health Association of Punjab v. Union of India and Ors, AIR (2013) SC1571.

(Author: Siddhi Gokuldas Naik)

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