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India's Problem of Female Abortion and Infanticide
Most Couples Abort their Female Child, and Some Commit Female Infanticide
by Culture Jam for Life
photo by agence france press

In India, sons can help around the house or field, get dowry when married, and retain land ownership in the family. India’s current affluence, instead of reforming the old ways of son preference, seem to be reinforcing the ancient system of preferential treatment of sons. Through IVF and preimplantation diagnosis, as well as selective abortion of girls, the rate of girls to boys has dropped dramatically in India in the last fewindia years. In Dehli, the ratio dropped from 945 girls for every 1000 boys to 865 girls.1 Laws have even been passed to outlaw determining the sex of the fetus, so as to lessen the rate of female abortion. But the law, originally passed in 1994, was not enforced until 2001, and many abortionists still disobey the law. Prakash Kakodkar, for example, risks the five years of jail time and the $1,000 fine to charge anywhere from $60 to $200 to determine the sex of the fetus and another $100 to abort the child.

According to Kakodkar, “it’s easy money.”2

A family in India can pay 1,000 Rupees (about 32 U.S. dollars) for an amniocentesis to find out the sex of the child, or for 50 rupees (about $1.60) a couple can have an ultrasound to check the sex of the unborn child. When the tests reveal a girl, often times the couple kills their unborn daughter. Sadly, in Indian society, girls are very expensive. According to some estimates, the cost of raising a daughter in India, which would include marriage, setting up a home and childbearing, can be up to 70,000 rupees (about $2,258). A girl’s dowry can be about 50,000 (about $1,613), which would be added.3 This may not seem like a lot of money to people in Western countries, but a poor family in India making 20 rupees a day, or about 65 U.S. cents a day, the price can be very high. This of course does not excuse infanticide, but shows where the society should change to accept girls as well as boys.

One way to combat this problem besides banning prenatal diagnosis is financial support. One possible plan that was put forth after some women’s organizations in India lobbied the woman Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha to help stop this problem involved the government giving a deposit of 2,000 rupees into an account for every newborn girl, fixed for 20 years. By the time comes for a dowry, the money should be have reached 20,000 rupees to help offset the costs of marriage.4

Quite ironically, a report conducted by a women’s organization found that “the widespread practice of killing girl babies and foetuses in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu has found that it may be linked with the successful health and education programmes . . . India’s nutrition programmes, preschool provision, the rise in female literacy and better health services have all led more and more people to want a small family of one or two children. They problem is that they must be male.” The report went on to describe how 51 percent of the familes living in Salem that were surveyed have practiced infanticide within the last two years, and that 70 percent of the residents were aware of female infanticide in their village.5

1. Ian Mackinnon, “The Rare Woman,” Newsweek, Nov. 11, 2002: 30.
2. Ibid.
3. “Female infanticide growing in India,” Women’s International Network News 19, no. 4 (Autumn 1993), 61.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.