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Missing Daughters

In India the population of girls has been decreasing. We need to understand that girls are our fortune. Socio-economic empowerment of women is essential for making informed decisions and for change of the mind sets. A healthy male-female ratio is a social need. While female feticide is bad in itself, the fact that millions of girls are “missing” in India has profound human and social implications. A stronger law to deal with those resorting to sex-selective abortions needs to be enacted. The reasons for high number of incidence of female feticide in India include a deep rooted traditional son preference, continued practice of dowry and concern for safety of the girl child and exploitation and abuse of women and girl children. In order to curb female feticide and improve the sex ratio, a strong a multi-pronged strategy that includes legislative measures, advocacy, awareness generation and programmes for socio-economic empowerment of women is needed. According to a study in India by an Indo-Canadian team of researchers, about 5,00,000 female fetuses have been aborted annually. This estimate appears to be closer to the truth. Atrocities against women are on the rise, and female feticide is one of the most brutal of them all. Despite a slew of laws to prevent female feticide and schemes to encourage families to have girl child, the ratio is declining. Female feticide is a shocking practice that has grown in the last few decades. Although the media and the government have made attempts to highlight the negative impact of pre-natal sex identification and selective abortion, the practice continues as reflected in the declining sex ratio.

There’s a huge deficit of women because families fear the cost of raising a daughter. It is a commonly practiced tradition (despite being outlawed) that the bride’s family pays a large sum of money to the groom’s family at the wedding. Plus, women are generally not seen as bread-winners and or allowed to inherit wealth like men in some states. Sex-selection is now spreading to rural areas as the technology gets cheaper and enforcement of the law remains ineffectual. The imbalance in sex ratio may increase violence, including rape, against women. With many men remaining unmarried, prostitution will increase substantially. Media exposes of doctors providing sex-selection services and offering to abort girls are commonplace, but they have little overall impact because demand is too strong. Doctors and radiologists conducting, or soliciting parents for, sex determination tests can be imprisoned up to five years and fined up to Rs 50,000. Despite the PC & PNDT Act, the conviction rate is low and the selection of male child before conception and female feticide continue to take place.

Despite rising levels of education, gender awareness and stringent pro-women laws, change has been slow and violence against women is increasing. Visionary leadership, stringent implementation of laws and a united effort to discourage dowry are the need of the hour. Educational programmes encouraging parents to view daughters as no less valuable than sons need to be mounted. Time has now come to formulate an action plan to launch a campaign to change the mindset of people and to promote female child birth rate.

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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