Tuesday, February 08, 2005

India's Rich Frown on Girls Too

The preference for baby boys among India's poor has been long documented and has resulted in the continued practice of infanticide for female babies. The introduction of modern pregnancy screening techniques (ultrasound) has somewhat lessened the practice of infanticide in favor of aborting female fetuses. Poverty is usually cited as a primary "root" cause for the devaluing of female babies. However, recent research indicates that the termination of female fetuses is even higher among wealthier Indians, leading to a potentially critical imbalance in the ration between the sexes among children. According to the Hindustan Times:
UNICEF consultant Satish Agnihotri's studies have found that the incidence of female foeticide is, in fact, higher in the prosperous regions of the country, resulting in a significant decline in the sex ratio even in urban areas. The Census of India 2001 says that there is a 32-point decline in the sex ratio in urban areas, as against a 14-point fall in rural regions.


The child sex ratio in prosperous states like Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Delhi has fallen below 900; and in some districts like Fatehgarh Sahib (Punjab) it is 754:1000 with both Patiala and Kurukshetra (Haryana) having only 770 girls. Ahmedabad (814) and South West Delhi (845) are not far behind.

In Punjab the figure is down to a shocking 793 girls (875 in 1991); in Haryana 820 (879); in Gujarat 878 (928); in Delhi 865 (915); in Himachel Pradesh 897 (951) and in Rajasthan 909 (916).
A steep imbalance in the sex ratio spells serious long term trouble for Indian society. It means that many young males will be unable to find a wife or start families of their own - important socializing influences on male behavior. How then will such males occupy their time? Many may choose to leave India, looking for wives and families abroad. Those who remain are likely to form and increasingly restless and dangerous segment of society, possibly fueling a more militarily aggressive Indian foreign policy over the next few decades as the Indian army find no shortage of recruits.
Familes will practically come to an end and balanced societies would be wiped out because rising female infanticide would mean no girls for young men to marry. Already Haryana and Punjab are grappling with this problem. Parents of young men are a harassed lot. Reason: They can't find any girls to marry off their sons. But this does not mean the longing for a male child has decreased. That remains intact.
The Indian government has responded to the problem with monetary payments for families choosing to rear girls.

The government recently announced the new Janani Suraksha Yojana (Safe Motherhood scheme) in an attempt to end gender discrimination and female infanticide. The scheme now offers a higher incentive (Rs 1000 [$US1=Rs47.5] instead of Rs 500) to poor mothers giving birth to girls.

Previously, a woman got Rs 500 at the birth of a boy or girl. But now if she gives birth to a daughter, she will receive Rs 1,000. Former Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj claimed that the new scheme would encourage the nurturing of baby girls.

It seems unlikely that an extra Rs 500 will induce significant numbers of poor women to reconsider terminating female fetuses without any change in the cultural climate. Nor will such payments have any effect among more prosperous women.


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