Guest Blog: India’s Missing Girls

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Gender favouritism in India has existed for centuries. Favouring the birth of males over females is dominant in Indian society and is a traditional notion which stems from the culture of males carrying on the family name, providing for the elders and not burdening their family at the time of marriage.[1] Gender favouritism is so deep rooted that it has become a societal norm for women to take two very different routes in order to give birth to a boy; one being to keep on giving birth until the baby is a boy, but the other is a much darker, unjustifiable route referred to as ‘female feticide’. You can see just how unsettling this traditional concept of gender favouritism is by this very disturbing folk song, originating from a northern Indian state, Uttar Pradesh… “Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Na Dije, Narak Dije Chahe Dar”. Translated, it reads “Next birth don’t give me a daughter, Give me Hell instead.”[2]

This culture of gender favouritism has produced a shocking truth- a generation of missing girls, producing a grave gender imbalance throughout India. The country’s consensus revealed a decline in the figures of India’s child sex ratio from 1991 (947 girls to every 1000 boys)[3] to 2011 (914 girls to every 1000 boys). This decline is majorly due to female infanticide and feticide, the killing of a female baby and fetus, respectively. It is estimated that half a million female fetuses are being terminated each year (sex-selective abortions) across all Indian states[4] even though the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (“MTP”)[5] prohibits abortion in India.

By introducing cheaper modern technologies in India, such as ultrasound machines, free from being regulated, gender-determination was made easier and much more readily available. The necessity of possessing an ultrasound machine, which can give a much more accurate reading of the fetus’ sex compared with older machinery, is demonstrated by Consultant Gynecologist, Dr. Puneet Bedi, “In the smallest villages in towns where there is no drinking water or any sanitation available, ultrasound machines are available.” Many civilians including protestors, campaigners and activists challenged the repulsive ‘female feticide’ in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In 1994 India’s Parliament responded by passing the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act[6] (“Act”), which was amended in 2002.[7] This Act prohibits sex selection, before or after conception, and prevents pre-natal diagnostic techniques (amniocentesis and ultrasonography) being used for sex determination leading to female foeticide.[8] No person is allowed to divulge the sex of a child in any form of communication, no clinic or person is allowed to conduct sex determination tests, and no person shall commit the act or sex selection or aid in doing so.[9]

Although the Act combats the first stage of female feticide, sex-determination, the sad truth is… female feticide is still prevalent, despite its illegality. So far money and being able to get away with this sickening procedure has kept gender-based abortions alive, despite the law stating otherwise. But one woman has begun to challenge that.

 

Dr Mitu Khurana, an Indian paediatrician, who gave birth to her twin daughters in 2005 aims to strengthen the law on fetal gender testing. Mitu’s journey to keep her daughters alive is one which took great courage, bravery and reflects human dignity. After being tricked into a sex determination test whilst in hospital during a kidney scan, which is illegal under the Act, the sex of the twins was revealed to her husband and his family. Whilst pregnant her husband pushed her down two flights of stairs, though the police never took any action regarding Mitu’s complaint against this abuse. However, in 2008 Mitu took legal action against her husband, his family and the hospital where the sex-determination test was carried out against her knowledge, under the Act. Mitu’s perseverance saw the state of Delhi lodge a case against the Medical Director of the hospital. Although in 2011 a summons was made against the three parties, the hospital, Mitu’s husband and his family continue to appeal. With the courts being slow, expensive and dominated by tradition Mitu’s legal battle continues. Hopefully the outcome will be one which will radicalise the traditional concept of gender favouritism and strengthen the Act throughout India.

 

26/09/2013

Zehra Deniz


[5] Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP), as amended in 2002

[6] Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, No.57 (1994)

[7] Pre-natal Diagnostic Technologies (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Act, (2002) No. 14 of 2003

[8] A fetus is defined in s.2(bc) of the amended Act as “ a developing human organism from the fifty-seventh day after fertilization till birth”

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