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Saturday 26th May 2018

Rise in India's foeticide

4th September 2007

A rise in illegal abortions, particularly of female foetuses, could lead to major social problems as the birth of fewer and fewer women leads to a skewed population, a United Nations agency has warned.


The UN Population fund in India has warned that existing social problems like sexual violence, child abuse and wife-sharing will only get worse if something is not done to address the problem of couples performing selective abortions out of a culturally ingrained preference for sons.

India has already enacted laws banning testing to determine the sex of an unborn child. But the killing of female foetuses is still common in many areas, with around 2,000 unborn girls believed to be illegally aborted every day in the country.

In some regions, for example, the Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and New Delhi, there are now less than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys, according to the 2001 census.

Ena Singh, assistant representative for the United Nations Population Fund in India, said the census figures were a wake-up call, and had served to focus public attention on the problem of female foeticide.

The preference for sons stems from economic concerns that daughters will be unable to look after elderly relatives and carry on the family name, because they will have been married off into another family.

The illegal, but still widespread, dowry system also contributes to the view of daughters as financial liabilities requiring substantial amounts of money to be married off.

Activists say female foeticide is rising because of the availability of technologies like ultrasonography and amniocentesis, which can tell the sex of the unborn baby.

The government estimates that 10 million girls have been killed by their parents -- either before or immediately after birth -- over the past 20 years.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, said sexual violence and abuse against women and children were already widespread. Fewer women would add up to more demand for women for marriage and for sex and this pressure would exacerbate the problem, she said.

In some families, several men, often brothers, are already sharing a wife in areas where there are not enough women for them all to find wives.

Brides are also now being sold and trafficked by their parents to areas like Haryana and Punjab where bachelors are being forced to look beyond their own culture, caste and social grouping to find a wife.

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