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Controversial New Female Foeticide Study


HindustanTimes ePaper

KNOWLEDGE IS known to spread light - opening up closed minds. But it does not always shield the girl child. Prosperity drives one to charity; unborn little girls do not benefit from them.

An extraordinary four-year research in the heart of rural India, post 2001 Census, shows that people living in areas with a higher level of education and affluence slaughter more female foetuses than those languishing in the social and economic backwaters.

The study, funded by the Swedish Research Council and carried out by the economic history department of Lund University as part of its research on developing economies, shows that “progressive areas” of India have a lower child sex ratio (CSR). Researchers claim that “ill-focused development is triggering a conscious choice to eliminate the girl child from the family”.

The study carried out in five states - Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal - revealed wide differences in sex ratio in villages of Karnataka and Uttaranchal. The less prosperous villages had a healthy ratio, while their wealthier neighbours, with higher indices of education and development, logged lesser number of girl children. It showed a strong shift from “son preference to active daughter discrimination”.

Factors like nuclear families, high education cost and access to technology contribute to it, say researchers Mattias L{censored}n and Neelambar Hatti. “Discrimination against girls is much higher where mothers are literate. In most cases, literacy is just confined to formal degrees; mindsets are primitive,” Hatti said.

According to researchers, it is easy to detect the sex of the child with improved technology and nuclear families make frequent use of sex determination techniques to do away with “unwanted” girls.

Economics has a role to play. “Sons are preferred to daughters as couples opt for a single child. They feel that the returns on investing on a male child will be much higher compared to a girl, who eventually moves to her husband’s home after marriage,” L{censored}n says. Bloodline is another important consideration. “Parents opting for single child prefer boys as they carry forward the bloodline,” he added.

The study brings to light the “disconnect” between economic improvement and human development. “The new and ugly form of sex discrimination has now become visible - one that is strongly linked to prosperity and daughter-aversion. Higher education level does not necessarily translate into gen der sensitivity,” the study says.

Tim Dyson, a professor at the London School of Economics and an Indian demography expert, accepts the premise. “In India, development and education have not been able to influence people in the right direction and inculcate the right values. Look at the cities. Female foeticide is much higher. There were similar signs in Japan and the US 30 years ago, which they tackled effectively,” he said.

According to member-secretary of the State Women’s Commission, Sanjeevani Kutty, the phenomenon is common in Maharashtra. “The more prosperous areas of the state, particularly towns, have a lower sex ratio. In Mumbai, south Mumbai has a lower ratio than other parts of the city,” she said, adding: “The state government asked us to device a strategy. We are training people in districts and forming women’s groups to tackle the problem. The groups will visit ultrasound clinics and organise campaigns among doctors.” In Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has ordered medical establishments to report on the sex of all aborted foetuses. “We are trying to regulate ultrasound clinics,” said executive health officer, BMC, Jayraj Thanekar.

aditya.ghosh@hindustan times .com Of dark minds and lost little girls Education does not always banish stigma - superstition is a state of the mind. And wealth sometime adds to the bias. A study funded by the Swedish Research Council shows more female foetuses are snuffed out in rich and educated homes; consigned to the altar of craving for sons. Why do the richie-rich prefer sons? Rising education cost: Investment on daughter’s education is viewed as futile as she eventually weds Nuclear families: People think sons will perpetuate bloodline Job market better for boys: As women usually “anyway get married and go away” Dowry: Coming back in a big way after hefty pay hikes Technology: Much better techniques determine foetal sex Inheritance: Boys inherit property, girls do not. Higher mobility: Daughter “marry and relocate, sons look after parents” Fears about freedom of women: Loss of honour: “What if she enjoys pre-marital sex?” Researchers claim that “ill-focused development is triggering a conscious choice to eliminate the girl child”. Few case studies Tale of two neighbours Karnataka: Two adjacent villages in Siddapur taluka, Uttara Kannada district The prosperous village with a high level of education and employment opportunities show higher incidence of female foeticide. Families kill in cold blood.

The contrast is sharp among communities as well. While economically stronger communi ties like Vokkaligas are clearly opting for sons over daughters using sex determination, Dalits have a better sex composition.

The areas with high child sex ratio are relatively isolated and the level of education is low. In these areas, there has been a change in agricultural and economic conditions. Overall, it is a combination of population pressure and land reforms, which changed the agrarian structure and the conditions for agricultural output. Facts that scare Tale of two neighbours A UNICEF study says five crore girls have gone missing in India in the last decade. It is estimated that a girl child is killed or disowned every hour in India.

According to the 7th All India Education Survey, 2002, one out of every six girls does not live to see her 15th birthday. Of the 12 million girls born in India, one million do not see their first birthday.

One-third of these deaths take place at birth. Every sixth girl child's death is due to gender discrimination. Females are victimised far more than males during childhood.

UNFPA says legal action by itself is not enough to eliminate harmful traditional practices.

Legislation should be part of broad and integrated campaign that involves opinion makers and custodians of culture.

In case of sex-selective abortion, the campaign should also address structural issues under lying gender discrimination, in particular a widespread preference for sons.

Confronting harmful practices that are national in scope can best be addressed through a broad coalition of actors, each of whom can bring their own expertise in creating awareness and moving the issue forward. It should be treated as a national issue and not a regional issue.

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