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Thursday, January 12, 2006
Gender Selection and Abortion in India
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:28 pm

Via the CSM: India’s ‘girl deficit’ deepest among educated

Banned by Indian law for more than a decade, the practice of prenatal selection and selective abortion remains a common practice in India, claiming up to half a million female children each year, according to a recent study by the British medical journal, The Lancet.

The use of ultrasound equipment to determine the sex of an unborn child - introduced to India in 1979 - has now spread to every district in the country. The study found it played a crucial role in the termination of an estimated 10 million female fetuses in the two decades leading up to 1998, and 5 million since 1994, the year the practice was banned. Few doctors in regular clinics offer the service openly, but activists estimate that sex-selection is a $100 million business in India, largely through mobile sex-selection clinics that can drive into almost any village or neighborhood.

Tragic.

I will note that story points out that there are reasons to believe that estimates from the study are high-however even the more conservative figures are still tragic in their scope. Whether we are talking 500,000 a year or 250,000 a year, that is still a lot of aborted little girls for no other reason than they were little girls.

And, of course, such practices skew the gender ratios:

According to the official Indian Census of 2001, there were 927 girl babies for every 1,000 boy babies, nationwide. The problem is worst in the northwestern states of Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, and Gujarat, where the ratio is less than 900 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Against common expectations, female feticide is not a crime of India’s backward masses. Instead, it is most common among India’s elite, who can afford multiple trips to an ultrasound clinic, and the hushed-up abortion of an unwanted girl. In the prosperous farming district of Kurukshetra, for instance, there are only 770 girl babies for every 1,000 boys. In the high-rent Southwest neighborhoods of New Delhi, the number of girl babies is 845 per 1,000 boys.

And today’s prize for poor reasoning goes to Donna Fernandez:

Some activists say it is wrong to blame Indian society for the incidents of female feticide. The main cause for the “girl deficit,” they say, is the arrival of ultrasound technology, and the entrepreneurial spirit of Indian doctors.

“This is not a cultural thing,” says Donna Fernandez, director of Vimochana, a women’s rights group based in Bangalore. “This is much more of an economic and political issue. It has got a lot to do with the globalization of technology. It’s about the commodification of choices.”

But if the bias towards male children is part of the culture, then I am afraid one has to fault said culture for making this particular choice so profitable. It is not the commodification of choice in general. Rather, it is commodification of a specific choice-and clearly one driven by the culture:

“I personally believe this as a failure of society, not a failure of women,” says Ms. Bishnoi. “Women who choose this technique may be victims of discrimination themselves, and they may not be the decisionmakers. Nobody can deny that the status of women is very low in India. There is no quick fix to this.”

The cultural practice of giving a dowry to the groom’s family puts a tremendous financial burden on a bride’s family. The cost of not paying a larger dowry can be even higher. In the high-tech city of Bangalore, activists report that it is still common for women to be burned alive by husbands who expected a larger dowry.

One can but hope that as India develops, that the status of women will also improve-and improve greatly.

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