Two thousand girls are “killed” every day in India because of a traditional preference for sons, the minister for women and child development has said.
Despite laws banning parents from having tests to determine the gender of unborn children, sex selective abortions remain a common practice in parts of India, and have resulted in a decline in the number of girls when compared to boys.
The practice is also followed in the UK by south Asian women who face immense pressure from their families to produce a son who they believe will carry on the family name.
In some cases, families believe they have to pay dowry to get their daughters married, leading many to kill the foetus or newborn shortly after birth.
India’s minister Maneka Gandhi said: “You have 2,000 girls who are killed in the womb every day. Some are born and have pillows on their faces choking them.” The minister made the comments to NDTV news channel on Monday (20).
Around 160 million girls are missing around the world as a result of selective abortion of female fetuses or infanticide, a 2012 book on unnatural sex selection by Mara Hvistendahl stated.
India’s 2011 census showed that while the overall female-to-male ratio has improved marginally since the last census a decade ago, fewer girls were born than boys and the number of girls younger than six plummeted for the fifth straight decade.
In 2011, a study in British medical journal The Lancet found up to 12 million Indian girls were aborted over the last three decades, resulting in a skewed child sex ratio of 918 girls to every 1,000 boys in 2011, versus 962 in 1981.
Over 20 prominent campaign groups – including the Muslim Women’s Network, Hindu Council and the Sikh Council UK – were unsuccessful in their attempt to add a new clause to current legislation banning terminations based on gender alone.
Eastern Eye has previously reported that British Indians were flying to Delhi to secretly terminate female foetuses.
India’s traditionally male-dominated culture views sons as assets – breadwinners who will provide for the family, carry on the name, and perform the last rites for their parents, an important ritual in many faiths.
Girls, however, are often seen as a liability, with families having to dig deep for a substantial dowry to ensure a desirable match. In a culture that views pre-marital sex as bringing shame to the girl’s family, parents also worry about their safety. Termination of a pregnancy based on the sex of a child is also illegal in India.
Gandhi said the Indian government’s “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign, which aims to reverse the declining number of girls, had already shown results since its launch in January.
The initiative, which is being run in 100 districts where the ratio of girls to boys is particularly low, aims to better enforce laws that criminalise pre-birth gender selection and improve girls’ access to education.
“We didn’t expect results to show for at least a year or two years, if at all, as it’s one of those mindset change things,” Gandhi said in her first television interview since taking office in May last year.
She added that the campaign had led to an increase in unwanted girl infants ending up in orphanages but said this was a positive response as it meant they had moved “from being killed to being thrown out”.
“The result is that hundreds of girl children are being thrown into orphanages in these 100 districts. In Amritsar, they have received 89 girls this month. In Tamil Nadu, they said the same thing. In all the districts we have chosen, they have a lot of girls going into palnas (state orphanages),” she said.
The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) failed to prosecute two doctors accused of agreeing to abortions on the basis of the sex of the baby because it was not in the public interest, it claimed. And a pro-life campaigner who launched a private prosecution against the professionals was this month ordered to pay £25,000 in costs.
British MPs voted overwhelmingly to declare gender abortion illegal in November, following claims that the law was unclear on the issue.
Labour MP Virendra Sharma called for those pressuring Asian women to abort their female unborn babies to be “named and shamed” by authorities.
“If nothing else, then name and shame those families or individuals who are putting pressure on the young girls. What is most needed is the woman who is carrying the child needs to be empowered that she gets the support from society and from the system that if she is put under pressure, she can take the legal remedy against those people who are putting her under pressure,” he said.
Abortion is legal in mainland Britain under the 1967 Abortion Act which allows terminations in certain circumstances, most commonly where two doctors agree that continuing the pregnancy could be more harmful to the woman or her existing children than ending it.