Sex Selective Abortion Isn't the Real Reason Why India Is the Worst Country for Women

Illustration for article titled Sex Selective Abortion Isnt the Real Reason Why India Is the Worst Country for Women

A new CNN report claims India is the most dangerous place to be a girl because the country's parents dread having them and thus turn to sex selective abortion. Even though the procedure is illegal, only 914 girls are born for every 1,000 boys, because baby girls are considered a rip off: boys bring home wives who can help take care of the entire family while girls marry off to tend to another set of strangers. But why isn't the country more concerned about the reasons why women feel forced to get sex selective abortions than with preventing them from happening?


The country's paltry girl to boy ratio is, of course, a problem, which is why there are campaigns underway in villages with placards posted above homes that read, "If you get rid of your girls, where will you find your daughter-in-laws?" (which kind of sounds like a particularly offensive article) and, "Save our girls." But sex selective abortions are actually more popular among the educated and well-off; they're the only ones who can afford to make choices about their bodies, since they have access to good physicians and ultrasounds. (Indian law prohibits doctors from telling a couple the sex of their child, but many clinics do it anyway.)

CNN calls this a "surprising" phenomenon: "Despite greater prosperity, their mindsets have not changed." Clearly, that proves that outlawing sex selective abortions is pointless, because they still happen "at an alarming rate," according to Dr. Anand Krishnan at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), a gender gap expert. "A boy is seen as a better investment. They prefer boys." If everyone prefers boys, sex selective abortions and infanticide rates won't go down until women are no longer considered inferior to men.


A recent Thomson Reuters Foundation survey polled 370 gender specialists who said India is the worst place to be a woman not because of sex selective abortions but because of pervasive cultural norms. "It's a miracle a woman survives in India. Even before she is born, she is at risk of being aborted due to our obsession for sons," Shemeer Padinzjharedil, who runs, a website which maps crimes against women, told the Vancouver Sun. "As a child, she faces abuse, rape and early marriage and even when she marries, she is killed for dowry. If she survives all of this, as a widow she is discriminated against and given no rights over inheritance or property."

Here are some statistics beyond sex selective abortion stats: One bride was murdered every hour over dowry demands in 2010, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau. One in forty Indian women die during pregnancy or child birth, according to Unicef. Many of those are child brides. 45 percent of girls are married before the age of 18, according to a recent report by the International Center for Research on Women. "Son preference in India is a well-documented phenomenon...what is less known are the underlying determinants of son preference and its implications for living girls," the ICRW has said. "Women's education is the single most significant factor in reducing son preference while wealth and economic development do not reduce son preference."

The latest census data shows that the literacy rate for girls is actually growing faster than for boys, and more women are studying at Indian universities than ever before, so hopefully, with more time and education, the government will be able to convince couples that having girls is a blessing beyond providing another family with a daughter-in-law. But that's only if more people, including the media, realize that narrowing abortion access is never the answer. The story of three-month-old Afreen is indeed harrowing:

Afreen died in the hospital. She was three months old.
Authorities say the baby was admitted to the hospital with bite marks, cigarette burns and a dislocated neck. Police say she was killed by her father.
"After my delivery my husband had come to see me and the baby. He said, 'It is a girl, why did you give birth to a girl?'"
He wanted a boy, an heir. Girls were too expensive, he said. A couple of days after giving birth, Banu says her husband gave an ultimatum.
"For her wedding we will require a hundred thousand rupees (about US$1,800 dollars) for all the expense. If you can get that amount from your mother, then keep her, but if you can't, then kill her," Banu recalled her husband as saying...Three months later, her baby is dead, and her husband is under arrest, accused of beating the baby to death. Police say he confessed to the killing.


But it further proves that sex selective abortions aren't the real issue at stake.

Indian father accused of killing baby 'for being a girl' [CNN]
G20 study: India advances, but many women still trapped in dark ages [Vancouver Sun]
What Happens to Living Girls? [ICRW]


Image via absolute-india /Shutterstock.

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The only way out of this bind is education.

I am a first born girl to the youngest / favorite son of a conservative matriarch in the Pakistani Punjab. When news of my birth arrived to my grandma, she wrote my mom a note that was handed to her in the hospital stating "Why is it not a boy? What good is a girl?"

My Dad had a strained relationship with me, and when six years later, my brother was born, it was clear to see that though he wasn't outright awful to me, he really really just wanted a boy. My brother can't quite get away with murder, but he is clearly the favorite out of us two, especially to my paternal side of the family.

My Mom, who is not from that region (and was a professional who gave up her career to be a home maker and resented it), fought really hard for me and pushed me to get a good education. I'm pretty sure educating/empowering me was a desire of my Mom's and eventually my Dad brought into the idea too. My paternal grandma and sisters often asked my Dad, "What's the point of educating her? You're wasting money that you should be putting away for your retirement or her dowry."

I met my non-South-Asian husband in university. We got engaged, my parents hit some hard financial straits. My Dad begged me to put off getting married for years (until he could pay for it and for the dowry that was still on his mind), but I said, eff it, and married/paid for my own wedding.

Had I not had the means to eventually barter my way out of the system, or the brains to be able to pursue a professional degree, or the parents (esp. my Mom) who supported my schooling and journey to financial independence, I'd be completely screwed. I'm incredibly lucky to have hit this trifecta.

We need to empower the women to "save" their daughters, and educate/train them towards financial independence. I can't see how else you can change the system. If you have ideas, please throw them up here.