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India heading for a shortage of women

June 14, 2017
In India an age-old custom favouring boys is leading to a shortage of women.

JAMES BENNETT, REPORTER: When you run a farm in India, having five sons is an asset, but when only one is married, it is also a burden.

RAJBALA HOODA (translated): Three of my sons can still get married, but the eldest one, it is going to be impossible to find a wife for him.

VIKRAM HOODA (translated) I never thought it would be this difficult for us to get married.

JAMES BENNETT: For every 10 boys, fewer than eight girls are born.

Family life here in this agricultural part of India remains deeply patriarchal. Parents here want a male heir to carry on the family farm but also so that he can bring in a wife and she can look after the parents in old age.

The problem is that every family’s quest for a male heir is led to a critical shortage of daughters and to women marry.

The Hooda family’s only married son, Balkrishna, found his wife more through cunning than romance.

BALKRISHNA HOODA (translated): My cousin told me that one his relatives was looking for someone to marry their daughter and were in talks with other families.

I reached her place that very night and got married.

JAMES BENNETT: Balkrishna’s brothers are finding out this society’s focus on boys and the disturbing abortion rates of female babies impose a life-long legacy.

BROTHER OF BALKRISHNA HOODA (translated): Abortions are the biggest reason why there is a lack of girls here.

INDIAN WOMAN (translated): Everyone is afraid of having girls because of dowry.

JAMES BENNETT: The tradition of dowries is rooted in the belief that a woman is a burden on her husband and he deserves to be compensated with money or gifts.

It makes having a baby girl an expensive prospect.

The advent of ultrasound technology offered a way out. Abortion rates sky rocketed. Dowries and gender testing are both forbidden in India, but the bans are largely ineffective.

Nearly three quarters of a million female foetuses are aborted in India each year.

MANEKA GANDHI, WOMEN AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT MINISTER: I don’t think it actually is specific to India. I think it is an Asian thing that the boy will probably work and support you in your old age.

The boy will be more useful to the family and the girl belongs to someone else as soon as she gets married, she will go somewhere else.

That, I think, is the basis of this ridiculous belief.

JAMES BENNETT: On the outskirts of the Indian capital, I have come to meet Sumitra Devi.

Mother of two daughters, the eldest is enrolled at Harvard and the youngest, Shalini, is studying to become a pharmacist.

SUMITRA DEVI (translated): I am very proud of our daughters. We have worked really hard to make them successful and so have they.

All of us, including my daughters have made a lot of sacrifices to reach this stage of our lives.

JAMES BENNETT: Shalini Khatri and her sister value their independence now, but accept the inevitably of an arranged marriage.

SHALINI KHATRI: And it they will ask about the dowry and all then we will deny that. We are well educated.

Full Transcript & Video

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