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Alarming Sex Ratio and the Problem of Female Foeticide and Infanticide in India

Census 2011:

Recent news of the sickening incident of dogs being fed female foetuses in Beed, Maharastra has once again brought back the focus to the dual problems of infanticide and infoeticide that are not only prevalent but rampant in India. Policy makers and numerous NGOs are fighting hard to tackle these issues.

Last year’s appalling census figures rated Maharastra as having the worst child sex ratio amongst other Indian States (801 females per 1000 males),  blaming mainly the practice of female infanticide and female infoeticide as the cause for this declining trend. Census, 2011 has pegged the population of India at 1.21 billion(up 17.4% from 2001) and has indicated that only 914.23 girls were born for every 1,000 boys in the age group 0-6 years, compared with 927.31 for every 1,000 boys in the 2001 Census. An improvement in the child sex ratio has been noted only in the state of Kerala and the two Union Territories of Lakshwadeep and Pondicherry. Overall in the rest of India there is a decrease in the number of girls, with Maharastra scoring the least. Other offenders high on this list are Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Chandigarh and Gujarat.

This is the worst child sex ratio in the history of our country since independence. This steep decline can be linked to the ever growing preference for a male child. The selection is done through either sex selective abortions or female infanticides.

Female Foeticide:

Female foeticide is the killing of an otherwise healthy female foetus, in order to get rid of a female child by means of Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) or ‘Abortion’.  Female foeticide, is considered a criminal offence in India. Abortion is lawful only when the doctor believes that due to medical reasons the continuance of the pregnancy may pose a threat to the health of the mother or the unborn child.

Female Infanticide:

Rural Area:

In rural areas where most people do not have access to sex determination facilities the rate of female infanticide is alarming. ‘Infanticide’ is the killing of a child after birth. In India there are many shocking instances of female infanticide by strangulation, poisoning, dumping in garbage bins, drowning, burying alive, starvation and over exposure to elements. A startling fact is that often the mother or other female members in her network actively participate in the execution of these heinous killings.

Urban Area:

Surprising, but true is the fact that often educated and wealthy people in urban India too nurse a desire for a male child. The only saving grace being that they may not kill their daughter after birth. These educated classes tend to misuse the technique of surgical termination of pregnancy to get ride of an unborn female child. They determine the sex of the child using ultrasound techniques, and subsequently get rid of the female foetus by means of MTP.

The Rationale:

In most Indian households, a male child is given preferential treatment over a female child. Parents often neglect the female child’s emotional, physical and mental needs, bringing her up to believe that her life is to serve others, especially the male members of the family and taking care of the household chores. Girls face discrimination before birth, at birth, and throughout their lives at the hands of their families. They are denied adequate medical and healthcare facilities, nutrition, education and are often subject to physical and sexual abuse.

To get to the root of this problem one must understand the socio-economic and cultural structure in India.Due to the patriarchal framework of society the male child is looked upon as the bread winner. Parents look upon them for their security, to carry forward the family name and perform their last rites. On the other hand, the female child is looked upon as a burden due to prevalent dowry practice

Cause of Concern:

For a healthy society the male female sex ratio must remain at a balanced level. The alarming rate of female foeticide is a cause of grave concern, as the number of girls born is declining drastically in several sections of our society. Due to this disproportionate ratio, the situation has the potential to expose females to more exploitation and violence. This state of affairs if not checked will have a disastrous impact on the future generations of our country.

Government Initiatives:

The government has already taken initiatives to prevent this menace from growing, by introducing various schemes at the center and state level. It has banned pre-natal sex determination by enacting  laws such as “Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act 2003” and “Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act 1994” as amended by “Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Act, 2002”. T Despite making pre-natal sex determination a penal offence, numerous clinics offering ultrasound scanning facilities have mushroomed throughout the country, rampantly violating this law in exchange for quick money. A survey in Maharashtra alone shows that an alarming 95% of the amniocentesis scans are being carried out for sex determination purposes alone. Given our skewed sex ratio the ban has proved to be ineffectual.

Some Recommendations:

Some of the recommendations of the Planning Commission are: relaxation on the ban on sex determination; the proposal to adopt the female foetus by the Government; and offering reservation incentives to the mother giving birth to a female child. In view of the present economic and social scenario of the country, all these appear to be impractical remedies for this growing malice. The time is ripe to introduce schemes keeping in mind the following recommendations:

  • Stricter control over clinics that offer to identify the sex of a foetus, stronger checks on abortions performed for the wrong reasons and disciplining errant doctors with unpardonable exemplary punishments.
  • Regular appraisal and assessment of the sex ratio, female mortality, literacy and economic participation;
  • A strong ethical code for doctors;
  • Effective and fast redressal machinery and assistance of efficient lawyers and fair minded judges;
  • Simpler procedures for complaint registrations, particularly for women who are most vulnerable;
  • Publicity for the cause through  TV and media and increasing awareness amongst  through NGOs and other organizations;
  • Empowerment of women and measures to deal with other discriminatory practices such as dowry, abuses etc;
  • Spread and emphasis  the need for education regardless of gender, focusing on the humanist, scientific and rational teaching methods which do not talk about discrimination;
  • Create awareness about gender equality through women role models.


Author: Maya Majumdar, Associate Advocate


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