Female Feticide and Sex-Selective Abortion
Doctor: It’s a little late. Besides, it has grown too large in size to eliminate.
Woman: Does that mean you can’t do anything to get rid of it?
Doctor: Hmm, maybe a timely pill or an injection can still kill it. The money charged will increase, of course.
Woman: That’s hardly a matter of concern. I just want it done with. (Pause) What will we do with the body, though?
Doctor: Do I need to spell it out to you? (Chuckles.) There’s a graveyard close by. Bury it there. Or maybe you could pack it in a plastic bag and toss it into the river nearby. Nobody will know.
Woman: Sounds like a feasible plan. Thank you.
The above dialogue is not a hypothetical conversation; it was part of a sting operation conducted by a team of journalists in one of the leading hospitals in India. The woman is a mother-to-be. If you were wondering about the repetition of the pronoun ‘it,’ be ready to understand that the subject discussed is the woman’s unborn girl child.
Yes, this is an actual conversation between a pregnant woman and her gynecologist.
While instances of abortion aren’t newsflash in India or any other nation, the cruelty being flaunted in this particular case is, for lack of a better word, horrifying. This exchange was captured and aired by a television programme called Satyamev Jayate which attempts to throw light on the brutal underbelly of India's supposedly sophisticated society.
What Is Female Feticide?
Female feticide is the selective abortion/elimination of the female child, done deliberately by the mother, after the detection of the child’s gender through medical tests. This is usually done under familial pressure from the husband or the in-laws or even the woman’s parents.
In places where cultural norms value male over female children (in India, China, Pakistan, the Caucasus, and Southeast Europe, for example), elective abortions of female fetuses are common. Like many societies around the world, India is patriarchal. A set hierarchy prevails in all tiers of its social order, and a fanatic preference for male children is especially common in India. From the ancient scriptures, one finds instances where men are glowingly praised as the key to continuing the family lineage, while females are forced to undergo multiple pregnancies and (or) abortions until they become breeding machines that produce male offspring.
Sadly, a majority of female feticide cases involve the enthusiastic participation of women, both old and young.
To add fuel to the fire, the unethical sex determination and selective abortion of female infants has become a booming ($224 million US) industry. Money has become a dangerous incentive for this transgression.
Why Abort Female Fetuses?
Every unethical act has some lame age-old reasoning behind it which its staunch supporters use as justification. The cause of female feticide lies within the cultural norms as well as the socio-economic policies of the country where the practice prevails.
The most infected (I use the adjective "infected" because it precisely depicts the malady) are the South Asian countries like China, India, Vietnam, and Korea, but this social evil has mushroomed to western nations like the US and Canada. Immigration has brought cultural preferences for female feticide across the pond.
What is the rationale, one may wonder? Surprisingly, the reasons for killing female fetuses aren’t quite as diverse as one may expect.
- "Male Children are a Better Investment." The main reason is the idea that the male offspring will better support the family. Since sons are seen as the main source of income, even though today, women have many career options, the common misconception still remains that it is the male who will help run the house and look after his parents, while women are viewed as being like cargo, something to be shipped off to another household.
- "Female Children Are a Gamble." In India, the age-old dowry system puts a damper on the spirits of those who are blessed with a girl child. When a girl is born, the parents begin to calculate the expense of her future marriage, the lump sum that will be paid to the future groom's family. They worry that currency may depreciate and inflation may skyrocket. Because of this, the birth of a girl is seen as a tragedy waiting to happen.
- Women Don't Have Status in Society. As a result of institutional and cultural sexism, female children and adults have less power, status, rights, and money. Even as adults, it's harder for females to take care of or make decisions for themselves. Centuries of repression have made inferiority second nature to most women who have been taught the role of the meek, submissive, docile wife who works relentlessly to cater to the whims of her husband. Female feticide often happens with the explicit consent of the mother. Even the mothers-to-be agree to this misdeed out of an inherited cultural bias and a sense of duty to the family.
- Foul Medical Ethics. With the legalization of abortion in India, illegal sex determination and termination of pregnancies have become everyday realities. Professionals in the medical field are only too glad to help parents realize their dream of a healthy baby boy. Female feticide is openly discussed in the medical profession and many pin boards outside clinics have advertisements for abortion that read, "Pay Rs. 500 [$10 US] today to save the expense of Rs. 500 000 [$10,000 US] in the future." The cost of an abortion is nothing compared to the expense of having a child, especially a girl.
- Industrial Growth. Industrialization of the health sector has further established the practice of sex-selective abortion. With the advent of CVS, amniocentesis, and ultrasound, sex determination of the fetus has become much easier. These manufacturers of high-tech equipment and gadgets benefit from the preference for male children. Many hospitals are known to sign long-term contracts with the firms involved in the production of these types of machines. Often, a healthy percentage of the profit is shared with the hospital, and both parties enjoy the fruits of rewarding a death sentence.
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A Note on the Accuracy of Sex-Selective Abortions
As opposed to CVS and amniocentesis, ultrasound technology is cheaper and within easy reach of the lower economic strata of society. It is also easily accessible in a hospital/clinic nearby with mediocre credentials. Unfortunately, the accuracy of the ultrasound is not 100% until the fetus is twenty weeks old. Consequently, the children aborted by those enthusiastic parents may just be the little prince they were hoping for.
The Long-Term Consequences of Aborting Female Fetuses
As Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." The after-effects of the genocide of female feticide are far-reaching. Blinded by their desire for male children, the majority of parents are ignorant of the disaster they unwittingly invite by indulging in female feticide.
- Skewed Sex Ratio: In India, the number of girls is declining with each passing decade. From 962 and 945 girls for every 1000 boys in the years 1981 and 1991 respectively, the ratio plummeted to a low of 914 girls born for 1000 boys in 2011. In China, the ratio is an alarming 100 girls for 118 boys (or 848 girls for 1000 boys). These are just two examples of nations trapped in vicious abortion cycles, but there are many other countries struggling with skewed sex ratios, as well. See below for more statistics from other countries.
- Female/Women Trafficking: The steep decline in the number of girls makes them scarce for the teaming number of males eligible for marriage. As a result, illegal trafficking of women has become commonplace in many regions. Women, often young girls who’ve just crossed the threshold of puberty, are compelled to marry. Many young girls are kidnapped from their parents and sold to the highest bidder. Child marriages and pregnancies have a devastating consequence. When a region participates in the trade of its female population, the present and future psychological cost is alarming.
- Increase in Rape and Assault: Once women become an endangered species, the instances of rape, assault, and violence become widespread. When there are fewer available females, the surviving ones will be faced with the reality of handling a society driven by a testosterone high. The legal system may offer protection and, as is the situation today, many crimes may not ever surface for fear of isolation, humiliation, and punishment on the girl’s part.
- Population Decline: With no mothers to bear children (male or female), there will be fewer births, leading to a decline in population. Though population control is currently the goal of many nations like China and India, a total wipeout of one sex is not the way to achieve this target.
Is an Imbalance in the Number of Females Born a Real Problem?
Yes, indeed. When calculated for the entire population, the widespread disparity is more visible and alarming and may prove critical for the country’s development in political, economic, and emotional spheres. The sex ratios of other countries are listed below:
- Vietnam: 892 females /1000 males
- South Korea: 934 females /1000 males
- USA: 962 females /1000 males
- Canada: 943 females /1000 males
- UK: 952 females /1000 males
- Sri Lanka: 961 females /1000 males
Prevention and Solution
Do the facts listed above truly spell disaster for the future of women? Maybe not. The issues of female infanticide, female feticide, and selective sex abortion have gained global attention, and many international and national lawmaking bodies have come forward to stop this cruel practice. Of the numerous steps taken to curb the matter, the prominent ones are:
- Cancellation/permanent termination of the doctor’s license who aborts a fetus simply because of its gender.
- Heavy penalty imposed on companies like GE that specialize in marketing medical equipment used for illegal sex determination and abortion in unlicensed clinics and hospitals.
- High fines and judicial action against parents who knowingly try to kill their unborn baby.
- Widespread campaigns and seminars for young adults and potential parents to enlighten them about the ill effects of female feticide.
Ignorance is one of the major causes for selective sex abortion cases. Spreading awareness can go a long way in saving our future sisters, mothers, girlfriends and wives.
A cohesive and concerted effort by everyone can prove to be the requisite baby step in the right direction. We might not support the notion of women rising above men, becoming the dominant sex, or conquering the world, but the basic humane consideration to let an innocent child live and see the world she was conceived to grow in is not too much to ask. Let’s not be murderers of our own flesh and blood.
More to Read
- China's great gender crisis | World news | The Guardian
Chinese families have long favoured sons over daughters, meaning the country now has a huge surplus of men. Is it also leading to a profound shift in attitudes to women?
- The Ghastliest News Of The Year? | Via Meadia
A short article on the diminishing sex ratio due to female feticide
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2012 Arati Nair