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Female Foeticide and infanticide

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  • Published
    9th Feb, 2016

Female Foeticide and infanticide is the ugly and earliest manifestation of discrimination against girl or female members of our society. Female foeticide refers to ‘aborting the female in the mother’s womb’; whereas female infanticide is ‘killing the girl child after her birth’. Active methods of killing girls through selective sex abortion and passive methods like discrimination in care and nutrition are used to eliminate the girl child. This malaise is reflected in the sex ratio indicators. Sex ratio in India stands at 940 in 2011 and child sex ratio has shown more continuous decline since 1961 but more alarmingly after 1991. Starting from 1991 the CSR has been constantly lower than overall sex ratio and has decreased by 21 points.

Sex Ratio and Child Sex Ratio (Census, 2011)


Sex Ratio

Child Sex Ratio















What are the reasons behind this malaise?

Behind these visible indicators lies large number of social-economic, cultural, legal, moral and technological reasons. 

• Ideological Preference for Boys

The patriarchical society in India generally shows cultural bias against women. Girls are generally considered liability until they are married off. Any kind of investment in girl’s education and empowerment is considered as investment in failed enterprise. Their physical security is added responsibility on the family. Practice of dowry puts extra burden on the parents and all these results into general preference for son and girl foeticide and infanticide.

• Availability of latest technology

This preference combined with focus on family planning, availability of latest technology facilitating sex identification and abortion, failure in stringent application of PCPNDT act all have resulted into increased cases of female foeticide.

• Socio-economic conditions

Along with this the socio-economic conditions are also the reasons behind this. In economically poor families there is absence of family planning tools. In such families the discrimination in child care and nutrition leads to increased cases of female infanticide.

• Absence of women in decision making

Absence of women in decision making circles results into their voices being ignored. Women advice are not solicited or ignored in families and societies. They are forced to carry on foeticide against their choice. At higher levels in political circles and police & administration these issues are hushed up because of absence of will to strongly enforce the provisions of the laws.

• Gender inequality in India

Economic opportunities available to women are very few as compared to men and it was reflected in UNDP’s GII (Gender Inequality Index) 2012 in which India was ranked at 132 out of 148 countries. This creates an environment of disabilities for women and effects their overall empowerment. These further results into discrimination and events of female foeticide and infanticide.

• Instances of sexual harassment and associated law & order problems.

Women are generally considered as weaker sex and their security has always been a concern for family. During historic times Rajputs and Maratha families started the practise of female infanticide and jauhar to protect the dignity of women. Increased cases of rapes and sexual harassment leads to economic disempowerment of women and which further results into them being disfavored by parents.

• Decline in moral and ethical standards

There has been a decline in the moral and ethical standards as individuals and families have failed to consider the rights of the girl child and the overall benefits that females bring to society, whereas individual or family interests have been promoted. It is also the violation of hyppocratic oath by physicians when they do sex selective abortion.

Impact of female foeticide :

The low sex ratio resulting from female foeticide and infanticide has severe consequences for Indian society which are manifesting themselves in various ways like

• Trafficking of women for sexual work and marriage. 

• Buying of brides from other states and even countries like Nepal in Haryana. Such marriages are not sustainable because of cultural differences and results into instances of physical, mental and sexual abuse of the bride. In some instances even the society has fallen to inhumane and illegal parctise of polyandry.

• Increased crimes against women like sexual harassment, lewd remarks against women, and instances of eve teasing.

• Women losing their place in society. Fewer women mean less representation in society, polity and economy. Along with these family members become more apprehensive of the security of female members and put more restrictions on them.

• More fragmentation of land as more the number male members more the fragmentation of agriculture land.

• Women bring stability and values in the family. When there is a girl child in a family the members of the family will be more sensitive to other females or girls in society. Female foeticide militates against these cultural values of the society and family.

Steps taken to stop it

Government, civil society and various other sections of society have taken serious note of the situation and a number of steps have been taken in this regard. Government has adopted a multipronged strategy to tackle the issue by adopting life cycle approach for ensuring survival, development and empowerment of girl child in a dignified way.

Though Indian Constitution provides Right to Life to every Individual, its violation in the case of girl child has lead to special focus being given to them in National Policy for Children 1974 and National Education policy 1986. Government through these policies specially focused on bridging gender gap in the health and education and ending discrimination.

Then PCPNDT Act (Pre- Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act-1994) was enacted to ban the use of sex selection techniques before and after conception and prevent the use of prenatal diagnostic techniques for selective abortion.

Recently programme like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (with focus on decentralization and convergence in implementation) have been launched to ensure survival, protection and empowerment of girls by eliminating  the differential in the sex ratio, infant mortality rate and improving their nutritional and education status. 100 focus districts with low child sex ratio have been selected and the Panchayats have been given the responsibility for co-coordinating implementation.

The Sukanya Samridhi Yojana component of BBBP programme aims to ensure equitable share of the girl child in family savings. The savings can be used for the education of girl child and her marriage, thus helping in the empowerment of girl and reducing the economic burden that families face at the time of marriage.

States like Haryana, which have very low CSR of 830, have started their own schemes like ‘Aapki Beti Hamari Beti’. Under this scheme the first girl child born in SC or BPL family will be eligible for Rs 21000 from state government. Localized initiatives like ‘selfie with daughter’ have also been launched by Panchayats and thus taking the initiative to ground level.

Apart from these programmes or schemes specially focusing on improving child sex ratio and preventing female foeticide and infanticide other initiatives to ensure the empowerment and to create an overall environment of safety, security and participation have been taken. Stringent provisions of POCSO Act (Prevention of Children from Sexual offences), Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act and the changes in the Criminal Law on the recommendations of Justice Verma Committee aim at creating a safe and secure environment for females.  Provision of better nutrition through ICDS, MDM, Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram, education through scholarship schemes like Pragati and special girl’s school like Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas are being implemented for ensuring the better health and empowerment.

Reservation of seats for women in Panchayats, 33% reservation in non-gazette posts in central armed police forces, police forces of UTs and recently the Bihar government decision to give 35% reservation to women in all government jobs are going to increase the participation of women in public life and change the people’s attitude and treatment towards women and girls.

Recognition of ground based role models by Ministry of Women and Child Welfare through ‘100 women initiative’ and emergence of role models like sportsperson Saina Nehwal, women IPS Archana Ramasundaram, CEOs like Arundhati Bhatacharya are creating an environment of hope for the girl child.

What elese need to be done?

• Focus on implementaion of laws. Implementaion has been the big issue in India and many violators have been left scotfree. Laws like Dowry Prohibition Act, PCPNDT Act should be stringently implemented. In spite of 50 years of Dowry Prohibition Act, the practise of dowry is still prevalent. Their strict implementation will lead to better status of women and better sex ratio.

• Pass Women Reservation Bill to ensure 33% of women in Parliament. This will make the highest decision making body more sensitive to the demands and issues of women.

• The attitudes of the people towards girl child should be changed for bringing socio-cultural changes. This may be achieved by ensuring the participation of various religious groups, social organizations and education system should be reformed to not only teach but practise the value of gender equality.



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