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Disappearing Daughters: Female Feticide in India

January 24, 2014

Disappearing Daughters: Female Feticide in India

By Amrita Guha

Mitu Khurana, a Delhi pediatrician, claims she was tricked into a sex determination test by her husband. Her husband and in laws abused her verbally and physically so that she would abort the twin girls she was carrying. Mitu refused, moved to her parents’ house and filed a case against her husband under the PCPNDT (Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act.

“An official told me I’m wasting my youth and my life,” she recalls. “Just give him a son if he wants one,they said.” (Khurana’s story is told in the documentary, It’s a Girl.)

Suvarna Gaikwad’s husband and her mother-in-law kicked, punched and ‘stomped on’ her belly after they were told she was having a baby girl. When she refused to have an abortion, they savagely attacked her. The husband, mother-in-law and two others stomped on her stomach, killing the unborn baby, which had to be aborted. Three-month-old Hina was admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit struggling for survival. Hina’s father Umar Farooq confessed trying to kill his daughter. Reshma Banu, Hina’s anguished mother, recalled how her husband Umar sent her to buy biscuits and then stuffed poison-laced food into the infant’s mouth to get rid of her.

Sadly, the murder of the girl child, whether as a fetus, or immediately after birth, has reached epidemic proportions in India. Female feticide, or the selective abortion of a female fetus for no other crime but being a female, is becoming increasingly common. A strange combination of patriarchal attitudes and access to modern medical procedures have made it a menace of comparable magnitude to poverty or malnutrition, as the numbers will demonstrate. Whether seen from a purely moral, or a purely pragmatic point of view, this type of violence on women has the potential to create tremendous demographic and social turmoil in the near future.

One of India’s oldest and crudest means to alter the gender composition of children, i.e., female infanticide relies on a set of procedures to kill girls within a few days after their birth. Techniques vary locally according to indigenous know-how and available resources (such as local poisonous plants). Such techniques have also evolved spontaneously over the years, incorporating newly available elements (such as pesticide). Horrifyingly, infanticide’s “efficiency” is beyond doubt, and its financial cost is also extremely limited because of its reliance on local resources. Another disgustingly effective and more common practice is neglect. It consists of a passive strategy intended to deprive girls of fair access to and share of resources, with a reduced probability of survival as a consequence.

In recent years, sex-selective abortion has become another technique to murder girls, using pre-natal sex determination. Pre-natal diagnostic techniques involve two main technologies, i.e. amniocentesis and ultrasonography. In India, pre-natal sex determination relies mostly on the latter, a non-invasive technology that is also easier and cheaper to conduct than amniocentesis. Most physicians are largely conscious of the ethical implications of this technology and are opposed to sex selection. However, as always, a small number of unscrupulous practitioners have become rich by performing illegal sex diagnoses or sex-selective abortions, given the strong social bias towards boys.

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