A know it all piece on the social evil of Female Foeticide in India and what legal provisions are put in place to tackle this problem. The article also includes the reasons for rampant Female Foeticide to exist in India and why it must be stopped before it is too late
Abortion of female foetus is called female foeticide. Female Foeticide is a major social evil in India and is culturally linked to the dowry system that has been part of the Indian culture even though dowry has been prohibited by law through the Prohibition of Dowry Act, 1961. In India, there still remains a strong preference for boys over girls. Following conception, foetal sex is determined by pre-natal diagnostic techniques after which female foetuses are aborted. Since 1991, a huge majority of districts in India have recorded a skewed sex ratio. According to the 2011 census of India, the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group in India went from 104.0 males per 100 females in 1981 to 109.4 in 2011. The ratio is significantly higher in patriarchal states such as Punjab and Haryana.
Why is Female Foeticide still so prevalent in India?
The killing of the girl child in the womb happens due to multiple grounds. The most important reason is the preference for a boy child. Most research shows that female foeticide takes place in India at an alarming rate because of the preference of the parents for a male child. Many parents prefer a male child because of the notion that they provide manual labor, can earn for the family and also progress the family lineage. The selective abortion of a female child is most common in the areas where culturally a male child is preferred over a female child. Even in the 21st century in Indian families, a son is considered an “asset” and a daughter, a “liability.”
The secondary reason is the financial burden. In Indian families, it is considered that having a daughter is a huge financial burden. Since India is predominantly a patriarchal society, it is often that the bride’s family has to bear the expenses of the wedding of their daughter. Many a times people have to mortgage their property or even put it up for sale for their daughter’s marriage. They sometimes have to take loans that put them in a cycle of debt. Thus, a daughter is considered as a financial burden which many do not want to bear.
Thus the primary causes of female foeticide in India are patriarchy, safety issues and lack of education:
Traditionally Patriarchal Setup:
A social system in which men hold predominant power in all spheres of life, such as moral authority, control of property, family affairs is called Patriarchy. Most of the societies in India are patriarchal and almost all of the patriarchal societies are patrilineal, which means that the male members inherit the property and title. Years of patriarchy in India has led to females being oppressed and eventually to female foeticide since the early 90s.
- Gender Discrimination- Centuries of patriarchy in India has resulted in gender discrimination in all spheres of life including socially and economically. A woman is often not considered as capable as a boy in India. Even though the situation has rapidly improving, girls have not been allowed to do work such as join the army and police, do heavy-duty jobs such driving buses & trucks etc.
- Family lineage- Due to the patriarchy present in the society, women often are required to leave their parental home after marriage and move to their husband’s home. Therefore, it is a popular belief that girls cannot continue the lineage of the family to which they are born. Not only does the family lineage come to an end, but also, the parents shall be left to fend on their own during their old age.
- Wanting a son- A son is considered to be a prized possession in the Indian society. It is a prevalent ideology that he will increase the size of the family, be the bread-earner for the entire family and will take care of his parents in their old age. This line of thinking is one of the main causes of female foeticide. The brunt of such outdated ideas is faced by girls and who therefore are killed in the womb.
- Dowry system- A daughter is often considered as a liability for the parents because of the practice of dowry. The day a girl is born in a family, parents worry about the dowry they will have to pay during her future marriage. Multiple demands for dowry by the in-laws and the subsequent failure on the part of girl’s parents to fulfil such demands lead to the wife often being subjected to continuous harassment and torture. To free themselves of such burden and distress, families think killing the girls inside the womb is a better alternative. They believe that money spent on the upbringing of a girl is a bad investment as she will go to her matrimonial home after her marriage. A wife is often considered to be the property of her future in-laws, who will consume various resources of her parent’s house, but will provide no returns to them.
Lack of education
Even today almost 26% of the Indian population continues to be illiterate. Lack of education among Indians has proven to be the bane and detrimental for the development of women’s causes in India. Socially evil practices like female foeticide still prevail in India because due to lack of education which means people continue to believe in outdated ideas. Other causes of female foeticide in India include:-
- Emergence and Misuse of Ultrasound technology– The Ultrasound technology was introduced in the early 90s in India. Ultrasound scanning machines can be used to fetch a lot of vital health information about the early foetus growth during the pregnancy. Unfortunately, many IVF specialists started to use this technology to illegally make money by checking the sex of the foetus and then aborting the unwanted female foetus .
Laws against Female Foeticide in IndiaOver the years many laws have been passed from time-to-time to control the social evil of Female Foeticide in India:
- India created its first abortion-related law in 1971, which was the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which made abortion legal in almost all states of the country, but it was particularly made for the medical cases of risk to the mother and children conceived due to an act of rape. The law had also specified established doctors who could legally perform the abortion in the aforementioned scenarios. This law proved to be highly ineffective because the government had not considered the possibility of female foeticide due to technological advancements.
- During the 80’s, technologies involving sex screenings in India had easily access to the common man. Soon, a plethora of reports started pouring in about the abuse of the sex screening technologies. Taking into account these issues, the Government passed the Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT) in 1994. This law was again amended due to multiple reasons, and it finally became Pre-Conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act in the year 2004. The main goal of the acts was prevention and punishment of prenatal sex screening and female foeticide.
Implementation of the Law
Many important changes were made in the PCPNDT Act, 2004. It brought ultrasound under its ambit. The rules, regulations, and punishments were made more stringent and tough.
It also led to the empowerment of the Central Supervisory Board and the formation of State Level Supervisory Board to supervise cases relating to female foeticide. Some of the salient features of the Act are:
- Bans the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception
- Prevents the misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex selective abortions
- The appropriate Authorities at the District and State levels are empowered to search, seize and seal the machines, equipments and records of the violators.
- The sale of certain diagnostic equipment is restricted only to the bodies registered under the Act.
- The Act allows for a central and state level Supervisory Board, an Appropriate Authority, and supporting Advisory Committee. The function of the Supervisory Board is to oversee, monitor, and make amendments to the provisions of the Act. Appropriate Authority provides registration, and conducts the administrative work involved in inspection, investigation, and the penalizing of defaulters.The Advisory Committee provides expert and technical support to the Appropriate Authority.
- Section 6 of the said Act clearly states that determination of sex is prohibited.
- Sec. 22 prohibits advertisements relating to pre-natal determination of sex.
- Sec. 23 (3) of the said Act, lays down that any person who seeks the aid of a genetic counseling centre, a genetic laboratory or a genetic clinic, or of a medical geneticist, gynecologist or registered medical practitioner, for applying pre-natal diagnostic techniques on any pregnant women (unless there is evidence she was compelled to undergo such diagnostic techniques) for purposes other than those specified, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term that may extend to 3 years and with a fine which may extend to Rs.10,000 and any subsequent conviction may involve imprisonment which may extend to 5 years and a fine of up to Rs.50,000.
- Before conducting any prenatal diagnostic procedure, the medical practitioner must obtain a written consent from the pregnant woman in a local language that she understands.Prenatal tests may be performed in various specified circumstances, including risk of chromosomal abnormalities in the case of women over 35, and genetic diseases evident in the family history.
Despite all these changes, it has been said that the implementation of this act has not had the desired effect. It has been nearly 26 years since the law came into force and despite this, changes in society have been slow. Despite multiples judgements given by the Supreme Court and various High Courts to make the existing law an impediment, the courts have often shown their hesitancy in sending the offenders off to jail which make the entire effort of preventing female foeticide futile.
Other provisions against Female FoeticideThe Indian Penal Code, 1860
Sections 312-316 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deal with miscarriage and death of an unborn child and depending on the severity and intention with which the crime is committed, the penalties range from seven years of imprisonment and fine to life imprisonment.Section 312. Causing miscarriage
Whoever causes a woman with child to miscarry that too voluntarily, shall, if such miscarriage be not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the woman’s life, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 3 years, or with fine, or with both, and, if the woman be quick with child, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 7 years, and shall also be liable to fine. It is to be noted that any woman who causes herself to miscarry, is within the meaning of this section.Section 313. Causing miscarriage without woman's consent
Whoever commits the offence described in the last mentioned section without the consent of the woman, whether the woman is pregnant with a child or not, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years.Section 314. Death caused by act done with intent to cause miscarriage
Whoever, with intent to cause the miscarriage of woman with child, does any act which causes the woman to lose her life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.
If the act is done without the consent of the woman, shall be punished either with imprisonment for life or with the punishment above mentioned. It is to be noted that it is not essential that in this offence that the offender should know that the act is likely to cause death.
What are the Consequences of female foeticide
Repercussions of female foeticide are long-term on the society. Some of them are as follows:
- Skewed Sex Ratio- In India, the number of girls per 1000 boys is reducing with each passing decade. From 962 and 945 girls for every 1000 boys in the years 1981 and 1991 respectively, the sex ratio had plunged to an all-time low of 899 females per 1000 males in 2018.
- Illegal Trafficking of Women- Illegal trafficking of women has become prevalent in many parts of the country. Women, often young girls who’ve just hit puberty, are forcefully married for a price settled by the groom to be. They are normally bought from neighboring areas, where the number of girls might not be as less as the region of the hosts.
- Population Decline- With no mothers to bear a child (son or daughter), there would be fewer births, leading to a rapid reduction in the country’s population. Though a control in population is the goal of a nation like India, a total wipe-out of one sex is certainly not the way forward.
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December 10, 2020