Aborting of female fetuses is a “national shame” in India.

Despite an increase in education there doesn’t seem to be a change in the practice of aborting a fetus when you find out it is female. There is still “missing” baby girls in India due to the practice. The Indian PM has made a statement against this.
via NYTimes.

Describing the abortion of female fetuses as “inhuman, uncivilized and reprehensible,� he said the government should crack down on the large numbers of doctors who illegally disclosed the sex of the fetus to the parents, and then arranged abortions of unwanted girls.

To put the national spotlight on the fact that this is a problem is a good thing. But I don’t know about this:

Before undergoing an ultrasound test in India, pregnant women must sign a form agreeing not to seek to know the sex of the fetus. Doctors who disclose the sex during an examination can be imprisoned for up to five years. But the law is widely flouted. Studies suggest that doctors often give coded hints, by remarking for example, “Your child will be a fighter,� or by offering pink or blue sweets, as appropriate, on the way out. Successful prosecutions are rare.

I think attempting to moderate this problem at such an interpersonal level is a)impossible, but b) misses the bigger problem. It is not that young mothers are selfish and just want sons. There is societal pressure on women to deliver male born children and if they are not able to they are treated as though something is wrong with them. So to put the pressure on doctors and mothers avoids the bigger question of why there is preference for male children.

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28 Comments

  1. Mr. Sean
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    “I think attempting to moderate this problem at such an interpersonal level is a)impossible, but b) misses the bigger problem.”
    Agreed and very well put. Thanks for calling attention to this – it was precisely the reaction that I had on reading the Times piece.

  2. irishgirl1983
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Since I have no relation to South Asia at all, I should probably not be commenting but i just can’t help myself.
    Is there anyway that more or less immediate measures could be taken against the select abortion of fetus’ by gender by Indian Society without somehow getting the women who are involved in this involved too?

  3. Posted April 29, 2008 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    i totally agree with you on the way that the indian government is trying to control this issue.
    the only way that abortion of females on the basis of sex is going to stop. of course, we cannot let this turn into an “outlaw abortion” tirade, since there are numerous other reasons that women get abortions, and we cannot punish them for their choices.
    however, i see abortion of female fetuses as merely an extension of a culture as deeply patriarchal as indian culture. particularly in the rural areas, indians need to start valuing the social & economic contributions that women make instead of relegating them to the submissive “bahu” (daughter-in-law) role.

  4. prairielily
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    I agree, Samhita. I don’t think education is going to be effective unless it causes a big cultural shift. I don’t want to be dramatic, but considering how many women in the area die in mysterious “kitchen fires,” and how families who have multiple daughters are treated with pity, I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all for young women to try to deliver a boy.
    It’s sad, though. This kind of gender imbalance is just going to come back and hurt the boys anyway. (This is not a “what about the menz?!!” comment, I swear.)

  5. Allytude
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    My friend and I have just recently started a blog on female foeticide in India.
    http://unwantedgirlchild.blogspot.com/
    We are trying to create awareness about it- specially since in the West female foeticide is all too often seen as a problem far away. Actually with a growing South Asian population in the west, the male-female ratio has become skewed too.
    In fact a skewed sex ratio just leads to greater trafficking, more woman abuse- as is evident in states like Haryana and Punjab. By the time it gets back to hurt the men, it will have hurt far too many women.
    Other campaigns are trying to address the problem of the “missing” females- there is the “5 Million missing” campaign and there are several other grassroots organizations trying to look at the issue.
    Misogyny is deeply rooted in Indian society, coupled with unscrupulous doctors, who make no bones about marketing sex-selection procedures- it is leading to this. The government has not handled it properly, nor are the efforts being made substantial.

  6. spike the cat
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    The predictions are that that this gender imbalance will probably result in MORE forced prostitution, trafficking and abuse of women. There have already been reports in China of women being kidnapped and forced into marriage as well as increased prostitution in areas where men have no prospects for a mate.
    Societies only change when there is some serious incentive to do so.
    History has demonstrated that there is increased societal instability when there is a surplus of young, poor males with little to no mating prospects.
    I’ve heard that even in some Indian communities outside of India they are already feeling the marriage squeeze.
    FYI the preference for male offspring in impoverished families in is in direct contradiction to what is evolutionary psychology predicts.

  7. Posted April 29, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    “So to put the pressure on doctors and mothers avoids the bigger question of why there is preference for male children.”
    Totally, totally agree. I just blogged on this topic recently: http://antichoiceantiawesome.blogspot.com/2008/04/finally-post-about-sex-selective.html
    This is one of those topics people think is just “over there” but it is actually frighteningly close to home for some of us. It is becoming a big problem here in Canada (specifically BC) and there are clinics springing up all over the place that will tell you the sex, no doctor needed. For a price, of course.
    It’s scary, scary stuff and you’re right, it is part of a way bigger problem.

  8. lotus
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    My immediate thought after reading this was for the baby girls born who would have been aborted. Would there be abuse/infanticide, then?
    I’m by no means advocating the continued aborting of infants based on sex. I’m just saying that, as you’ve all pointed out, with this systemic problem, there may well be other nasty issues down the road.

  9. Posted April 29, 2008 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Wow, what a complicated issue.

  10. anjali
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    wow…how do you even begin to bring about a change in culture that’s this big??!!
    It just depresses me to hear that something like this still happens…what else do women have to do in this world to prove that we’re not completely useless??!!

  11. Leslie
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Yeah I agree that they’re probably going about it the wrong way… and if doctors were forbidden to disclose the sex of the fetus to the parents, I’m sort of afraid to see how those girls would be treated once they were born. Stopping parents from aborting female fetuses doesn’t solve the problem… once the girls are born, if they are born to parents that would’ve aborted them had they known they were having a girl, they might very well be treated terribly.
    Also, it gets kinda sticky in determining a woman’s desire for an abortion… it is right to provide education and such as to why it is wrong to abort a fetus for the sole reason of it being female.. but in that process, women who seek an abortion for valid reasons may be prevented from doing so. How do you know a woman is seeking an abortion because she wants one and it is her right, or whether or not she is having an abortion because the fetus is a girl and shes being pressured to produce sons?

  12. Mina
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    “History has demonstrated that there is increased societal instability when there is a surplus of young, poor males with little to no mating prospects.”
    Isn’t that claim basically “when young, poor males don’t have *wives* to beat up they beat up *people* instead”?
    “My immediate thought after reading this was for the baby girls born who would have been aborted. Would there be abuse/infanticide, then?”
    One possibility is them being treated like shit for being female and not being told “we think girls are worthwhile people too!” unless/until *they’re* pregnant and far enough along for ultrasound to reveal fetal sex…
    “it is right to provide education and such as to why it is wrong to abort a fetus for the sole reason of it being female..”
    Yes, and that education is best started years before someone can get pregnant in the first place!

  13. anjali
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    A friend of mine just showed me these articles:
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,288168,00.html
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6275770.stm
    They`re about a baby girl that was found buried (by her family) 2 days after she was born…simply for the fact that she was a girl. She was the 8th daughter, so the family didn`t think they`d be able to take care of that many. They want a son THAT badly that they got pregnant 8 times…I wonder if they`ll try again.
    I guess this answers question of what happens to the girls. This happens so much…the only reason this girl was saved was because a farmer saw her hand sticking out of the ground. How sad is that.

  14. crazylady
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    “Also, it gets kinda sticky in determining a woman’s desire for an abortion… it is right to provide education and such as to why it is wrong to abort a fetus for the sole reason of it being female.. but in that process, women who seek an abortion for valid reasons may be prevented from doing so. How do you know a woman is seeking an abortion because she wants one and it is her right, or whether or not she is having an abortion because the fetus is a girl and shes being pressured to produce sons?”
    What exactly makes this a NOT valid reason for an abortion? What is the determining set of criteria?
    And, at what point is the woman who seeks the abortion choosing to do it all on her own, without being subject to “societal pressures?” Are there ever any women who really want one or the other, and abort when it is not the gender desired?

  15. BeezNeez
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    With cultures like in China and India, where male babies are SO highly valued and have been for centuries, it’s really hard to just snap your fingers and change the world. Modern culture is changing some minds, but the process is slow. I can’t say that there’s any good way to actively change the culture other than to put a message out there and hope for the best.
    But with laws like this, perhaps a few lives are saved that otherwise wouldn’t be. It’s horrible to have to resort to this, and yes, maybe some will be ignored or abused or killed, but some won’t, and I feel like that’s the best that can be hoped for. Unfortunately.
    I’ve personally spoken to quite a few Indian men, and their views of women have been astoundingly backwards by my western standards. It’s quite sad, but there’s no real short-term solution that doesn’t involve heavy amounts of force.

  16. Leslie
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    crazylady…
    i had a feeling my comment would be interpreted that way, i just wasnt sure how else to phrase it. i am not suggesting that its up to us to decide whether a woman’s desire for abortion is valid or not.. i was trying to say what you ended up saying, that there is no clear cut line or determining criteria. thats why this is such a difficult situation.. because we cant determine whether or not a woman seeking abortion is doing so because of gender preference or other reasons. one can only hope that with appropriate education (for everyone of course, not just women), the number of women seeking abortions of female fetuses BECAUSE they’re female will decrease. but thats just hoping.

  17. jfiling
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    Killing the unborn just to weed out females is plainly wrong. However, I see no easy solution to this.

  18. flannery
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    You would think that if they devalued women this much they would prefer them to be born. That way society as a whole could demean them, degrade them, and use them as sex slaves. This fate as a sort of half human seems far worse than never being born. Just a thought…

  19. Posted April 30, 2008 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that this may not only be just a culture-influenced decision, but a perfectly rational one. Women earn an abysmally lower rate than men in India, if they work outside the home at all, so in a very real way girls are a drain on their parents, who must rely on their children to support them in their old age. The cure for this, then, is to fix the pay gap and the presumption that women don’t work outside the home.

  20. Mina
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    “But with laws like this, perhaps a few lives are saved that otherwise wouldn’t be.”
    Saved? “Perhaps a few lives would be started that otherwise wouldn’t have started in the first place” is more accurate.

  21. Mina
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    “Women earn an abysmally lower rate than men in India, if they work outside the home at all, so in a very real way girls are a drain on their parents, who must rely on their children to support them in their old age.”
    …unless their parents are relying on their sons and daughter-in-laws, instead of their sons and daughters, to support them in their old age.
    For one example, how often does a patriarch who marries off his daughters expect them to come back and support him instead of expecting them to stay with their husbands and clean up after their in-laws?

  22. edelweiss
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    “You would think that if they devalued women this much they would prefer them to be born. That way society as a whole could demean them, degrade them, and use them as sex slaves. This fate as a sort of half human seems far worse than never being born. Just a thought…

    Ironically enough, Indian women are expected to be paradigms of virtue and honour. As an Indian girl myself, I read about the consequences of female foeticide all the time. In some states, women marry one brother and are then forced into having relations with the remaining brothers due to shortage of women.
    Not only does this happen because of an extreme patriarchal society, it’s also in part because people believe that they need a son to perform their last rites. Educating a woman is supposed to be useless, as all they are fit for is housework. Marrying a daughter is imperative and very expensive, therefore, parents prefer to have sons instead.
    Changing people’s mindsets will be extremely difficult. That is why the government is just taking quick and urgent measures by focussing on the law first.

  23. janet
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    From ecological and evolutionary standpoints, it is interesting that the two countries where this is reported as most prevalent are also the two most densely populated. Reducing a disproportionate number of females will limit population growth over a few generations. Despite the moral issues, the practice may have environmental benefits. It opens up the question if humans have a genetic element for devaluing a major limiting factor in population growth (the number of females) when the carrying capacity of an area is approached — which has been the case in India and China for a long time although technology has artificially increased the carrying capacity in recent history.

  24. Candy
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I definitely don’t think the solution is denying women access to information about their own bodies (such as the sex of the fetus) or going to an extreme and outlawing all abortions.
    The core issue for me is that one can’t be sure that women are aborting the fetuses freely. If women are being coerced on the micro and macro level to bear sons with serious negative repercussions for not doing so (even though it’s men who determine the sex of the fetus) then can you really call that a free choice?
    Also, in response to Janet’s comment…I’m really reluctant about attempting to come up with evolutionary explanations for infanticide or other human rights issues. Not only do these constitute “just-so” stories (in my opinion) but they offer ignore the social and structural processes behind inequality.

  25. Orie
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I am somewhat familiar with the state of gender equality in India. While women are victims, they are by no means innocent victims and play as important a role in maintaining male dominance as do men.
    An unwanted child for hideous reasons is still an unwanted child. Reproductive freedom should not be conditional on how women value male and female children. To expect the corrupt and misoginistic government to protect the women from their own misogistic values is naive at best.

  26. sapien
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    If these are forced abortions, that would be horribly immoral. But, aren’t these just women deciding for themselves that they don’t want a baby? I think that should be perfectly legal. It is however, in my opinion, a very bad idea to abort a fetus just because it’s female.

  27. rhiannon
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I agree that the regulation of abortions isn’t the solution here, neither is blaming the women or the doctors.
    As far as I know it’s really, very difficult to “catch” a doctor revealing the sex of a fetus. From what I’ve heard brides will often be involved and, further, there are complicated codes in place for finding ti out. Also, it’s not just doctors who know but also nurses and the like.
    So not only is it shortsighted to think charging a doctor for giving out the sex will stop the abortions from happening it isn’t very doable to “catch” someone for doing it.

  28. edelweiss
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    “If these are forced abortions, that would be horribly immoral. But, aren’t these just women deciding for themselves that they don’t want a baby? I think that should be perfectly legal. It is however, in my opinion, a very bad idea to abort a fetus just because it’s female.”
    That just won’t work. Abortion is legal in India, and sex determination is not. This is the only law which can work. If both were to be made legal, the sex ratio would decline even further, and the rates are alarming enough as it is.
    There’s simply no other way of doing it. Of course, tenchincally it’s the woman’s choice, but that can’t work right now in India.
    And while it is difficult to catch doctors, sting operations have been conducted and errant doctors brought to book. If doctors are scared of the law, they won’t do it.

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