INDIA - INCREASING GENDER IMBALANCE - PREFERENCE FOR BOYS - LAW BUT LOOPHOLES - FEMALE ABORTIONS & INFANTICIDE
India has only 914 girls for every 1,000 boys, according to the latest census [Davinder Kumar/Plan International]
October 2011 - Dr Neelam Singh is on the front line of
Modern medical technology - specifically ultrasounds for determining the baby's sex - coupled with ancient cultural values which give preference to boys, mean that hundreds of thousands of girls are never being born.
There were only 914 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of
"I feel the demand [for abortions] every day," Singh told Al Jazeera. "Parents say it's important to have a son in the family. They want to keep their family name. I see this as the most heinous kind of discrimination towards a girl child."
The world's population will hit seven billion later in October, according to the UN, and the problem of imbalanced gender ratios is getting worse in several regions.
"In India, there is a confluence of factors leading to passive infanticide, active infanticide or sex selective abortion," Valerie Hudson, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University who studies birth rates, told Al Jazeera.
the most important is the tradition of dowry [payment to a prospective
husband]. Having to marry a girl off may be the equivalent of several years of
income for a family. A daughter is often seen as a liability on necessary
family resources." Restrictive property rules, where inheritance is passed
from father to son rather than to daughters, male dominated funeral rights and
parental hopes that male breadwinners will support them through old age also
play a part in skewing demographics,
world's largest democracy still fares better than
2020, an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of men in some regions of northwest
These massive social imbalances could spark a host of social problems.
15 per cent of young adult males in your population will never become head of
household or heirs you will alienate these men in ways that cannot be
"The historical record shows there can be distinct negative impacts on levels of violent crime, riots and rebellion against the state," when large groups of single young men are alienated and lack family commitments, according to Hudson.
lack of women is being felt by bachelors, policy makers and women's rights
Governments will likely funnel bachelors into the military, she said.
prospects for conflict are unclear, other problems including human trafficking,
prostitution and polyandry – men (usually relatives) sharing a wife - are certain
to get worse.
Governments are, however, trying to address the problem.
allowing families to detect the sex of a foetus at an early stage and plan for
an abortion has been banned," said Mohammed Asif, director of programme
implementation with Plan
"The government's law is stringent, but people have been trying to work around it, going to far away clinics and giving fake addresses. Loopholes have been exploited and a key strategy would be to take action against illegal ultra sound clinics," Asif told Al Jazeera.
Other researchers don't think legal changes are the best way to improve the situation. If cultural values discourage against having girls, families can find other ways of getting rid of them without advanced screening techniques.
sound technology is just the latest wave to select a son preference,"
Pande said. "In rural Uttar Pradesh and
No cure in education
Contrary to popular belief, education, status and upward mobility can actually make the problem worse.
have a much greater chance of survival as a girl baby if born to a poor family,
rather than a rich family,"
national trends are cause for concern, the situation is improving in some
areas. "Tamil Nadu is one of the few states where we have seen an
improvement," said Sharada Srinivasan, a professor of gender studies at
In addition to counselling, and the creation of self-help groups for women, the southern state is using the carrot and the stick approach. "The government has created a massive cash transfer programme" to entice parents to keep baby girls, Srinivasan told Al Jazeera. Parents who commit infanticide are increasingly being prosecuted for homicide, she said.
Nadu also hosts some of
While cash incentives, laws against gender selective ultrasounds, harsh punishments and economic changes all play a role, changing deeply ingrained social values is arguably the most important issue, and the most difficult.
"There is no way you can tax patriarchy," Srinivasan said. "Public action has a role to play in changing social norms. History is full of examples of this."