No announcement yet.

India's search for 'missing daughters'

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

    India's search for 'missing daughters'

    India’s search for ‘missing daughters’

    Attitudes, technology keep female feticide on the rise
    Young girls in Rajasthan, India.

    By Patralekha Chatterjee

    NEW DELHI, India, Dec. 5 — India has had a woman prime minister. Its opposition party is headed by a woman. Middle class Indian women are increasingly visible in traditionally male-dominated professions. But despite these stirring indicators of gender empowerment, the country’s male-oriented society has created a desperate yearning for baby boys. For many, the wish is strong enough to kill — and a surge of new technology that can determine a baby’s gender has created a generation of “missing daughters.”

    INDIAN GIRLS are often seen as a burden. The marriage of a daughter, even an educated one, entails spending vast sums of money and a fat dowry. Lately, especially among India’s growing affluent, the dowry burden is rising.
    Deeply entrenched social attitudes and the lack of political will to punish those found guilty of gender bias (one of the extreme forms of which is female feticide) has led to the current situation.
    In a recent warning, the Indian Medical Association (IMA), a network of 150,000 doctors in the country said that India is heading toward a “demographic disaster of the century.”
    “Despite the law against sex determination (enacted in 1994), female feticide is still a serious menace in the country. While 12 million girls are born in India every year, almost 2 million female fetuses are aborted annually after sex determination,” the November issue of the IMA’s official bulletin reported.

    One of the main contributors to the country’s “missing daughters” is the availability of new ways to eliminate a female fetus.
    “I can say with 100 percent conviction that anybody who has had one female child and is expecting another wants to know the sex of the fetus. Eighty percent of people in this category would like to abort the fetus if they think it will be another female child,” said Dr. Sharda Jain, a Delhi-based gynecologist.”
    At the heart of the matter, Jain said, are dual use technologies like ultrasound. Ultrasound can be used to see the form of the fetus in the womb after conception and detect any abnormalities. However, such tests also indicate the gender of the fetus. Though India’s law specifically bans prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex determination, many doctors have been quick to cash in on the money-making potential of the gadget.

    But in India, where poverty both in major cities and in the provinces is rampant, an argument can still be made for expensive ultrasound procedures — and ultimately abortion. A typical advertisement that appeals to parents who don’t want to lose their life savings on a dowry reads: “Spend 500 rupees now, save 50,000 rupees later.”

    At the turn of the century, there were 972 females per thousand males in India. In 1961, the figure dropped to 941 and in 1991, when the last national census was undertaken, it had fallen to a dismal 927.
    “The male population in India outstrips females by some 31 million. The question is: Where have all the missing daughters gone?” said Dr. Prem Aggarwal, the IMA’s general secretary.
    A clearer picture will emerge in 2001 when the next national census is conducted. The good news coming out of this country reaching the billion mark is that the population growth is slowing down. The bad news is that neither rising affluence nor literacy have made the slightest dent on the traditional obsession with the male child.
    The IMA has threatened disciplinary action against errant doctors who exploit the craze for sons.

    In 1982, an error in sex detection diagnosis at the New Bhandari Hospital of the holy city of Amritsar in western India resulted in the abortion of a much-wanted son in an influential family. A controversy erupted which snowballed into a major national issue. Nearly two decades since female feticide emerged as a topic of debate, a succession of governments has enacted a plethora of laws.

    But the clientele for pre-natal gender tests has continued to grow. Today prenatal sex determination facilities are available in cities and towns which can’t even provide basic facilities like running water to the vast majority of its residents.
    The IMA and UNICEF recently began a nation-wide awareness campaign on the issue of female feticide. The IMA has threatened disciplinary action against errant doctors who exploit the craze for sons. But the medical fraternity is the first to concede that this is easier said than done. The Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994 declared ultrasound for sex selection a jailable offense, but there has not been a single conviction for feticide in the country since.
    Currently there are nearly 20,000 ultrasound clinics in the country. However, most are unregistered and worse, staffed by doctors who are not qualified to conduct specialized tests.
    “In India, we are masters of loopholes,” said Ashish Bose, an eminent population expert. ” So while a doctor may not write that a fetus is male or female, what is to stop him from using code language. The ‘v’ sign for victory means a boy.”