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The problem of Female Feticide and shameful backward solutions from India to Canada

Since ancient times the birth of a son is preferred over that of a daughter.  As a patriarchal and patrilineal society, the sons are charged with the responsibility to carry on the family name. They have to support their parents during the old age, (son’s are the parent’s health insurance, the parent’s pension, and the parent’s security for long term care in their senior years.) And after death, sons are assigned the duty to perform funeral rites. The daughter cannot do this because after marriage, daughters live and become a part of the groom's family. It is known that the families with more sons are far off economically than the ones with no sons.

Poverty, starvation, unemployment, homelessness, economic insecurity, deprivation, discrimination, inequality, political repression, ignorance, prejudice, cultural backwardness, and political insecurity, are all contributing factors leading to female feticide globally.  First we need to recognize female feticide as a product of society in the current economic and social system and moral values before we suggest a solution.

Female feticide is the termination of the life of a fetus within the womb on the grounds that its sex is female. Sex-selective abortion is happening frequently globally, in particular in Southern and Eastern Asian countries. At least 100 million of the total numbers of aborted female fetuses have been victims of female feticide. In India, the need for a dowry for girl children is blamed. Dowry is money, gold, goods or estate that young girls bring forth to the marriage.The groom and his family often demand a dowry consisting of a large sum of cash, gold, farm animals, furniture and lands. The need for a dowry for girls brings unbearable pressure on families and a as result, they use any means to avoid having girls. Women are known to have lost their lives for having back–street abortions. The consequences of not having a sufficient dowry are sometimes very harsh on girls and their families.  The most common way to punish the bride whose dowries were not deemed sufficient by their husband or by the groom’s relatives is known as “bride burning”. This is a common practice in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. According to Indian state statistics, a dowry death occurs every 93 minutes. In China, the blame for female feticide is blamed on the one-child policy. This policy in China has increased the rate of abortion of female feticide. But the situation in Western countries differ.  The ones who live in closed communities and carry the tradition of their parent’s homeland somehow adopt this practice or if they have two girls before and they find out the coming third child is also a girl. As a result the sex ratio has altered consistently in favor of boys. In areas due to shortage of girls, abduction of girls has increased dramatically for the purpose of sex, molestations and rape. Without protection, such women live in a world of fear and nightmares.

What can be done?

I strongly believe the only way we can end female feticide is to achieve universal progressive civil, political and welfare rights.  Meanwhile we need to focus on immediate measures that would guarantee the well being of women.

Analyzing the problem, past the face value

To prohibit sex selection, the Indian government introduced the 1994 Prohibition of Sex Selection Act. The government also created Supervisory Board and Advisory Committee agencies to oversee, monitor, inspect and investigate as well to penalize offenders.  Heavy fines are imposed and up to three years imprisonment for a first offence, with greater fines and longer terms of imprisonment for repeat offenders.  However, according to government statistics, the results were total failures.

What the government in India did simply was to deny the problems that caused the practice of female feticide in India, which directly relates to  poverty, starvation, unemployment, homelessness, economic insecurity, deprivation, discrimination, inequality, and political repression. By not concentrating on the underlying social causes and taking steps to help alleviate the above mentioned problems, the Act resulted in a total failure of the government’s objective.  The “Prohibition of Sex Selection Act” is about punishing the victim; it is about further victimization of women and their families. The reasonable questions one needs to ask the Indian authorities for enforcing the above law is what is the rate of survival of unwanted baby girls that are born?  How could that unwanted baby girl have a right to a happy, secure and creative life?  What tools did society put in place to ensure the well-being of the child, irrespective of her family's means and circumstances? In a modern, progressive society families are provided with allowances, free medical care, and free education to ensure a higher standard of living for children, no matter what their economic background are. The state is responsible to ensure an equal and high standard of welfare and development opportunities for children.

Since there is no social welfare, national health care, free education, secure job with substantial income, the well being of women and her children are left at the mercy of her culture, tradition and the male members of her family and community. The only option left for women is to either end her own life or the life of their baby girl. 

In Canada, as in other Western countries, it can come as no surprise that female feticide is on the rise, with a policy of cultural relativism and the obvious cultural U-terns in progress globally. One can witness the reappearance of religious fanaticism, male-chauvinism, and collapse of the individual’s rights and status in society.The sad and unacceptable approach of Canada towards this problem is no different than in India.The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) proposes “the way to stop the abortion of female fetuses is to withhold disclosing the sex of a fetus until 30 weeks, by which time “an unquestioned abortion is all but impossible.” But like the Indian government, the CMAJ also ignores the social issues. What is needed is  a humanist approach to this problem by using science and technology to release and lift some social, moral and economic pressure on women;  granting individual and civil rights and liberties of women in such a way that  all women benefit from it even the ones who came from  India, China, Pakistan and …;  and putting in place full equal rights and status for women and men in the family and ending of male privileges as the so-called 'head of the household.'  It is also necessary to end all restrictive and backward cultural and moral codes and customs which hinder and contradict woman's independence and free will as an equal citizen and end any restriction on the rights of woman. It is also necessary to end interference by any authority, whether it be family members or relatives, or official authorities in the private lives of women and their personal, emotional and sexual relationships. The CMAJ proposal violates a women’s right to know the result of a diagnostic imaging and fetal sex determination so she can decide to keep her baby or not; her right to enjoy all health care and medical facilities available to society and her rights to independence, is being compromised,  The proposed  implication of not disclosing the sex of a fetus until 30 weeks is no better than the mentioned Indian Act. This proposal does nothing but puts women's health in danger. It forces women who are not ready not mentally, emotionally, or  psychologically to have unwanted child. Bu the above proposal gives assurance to others that this proposal is not meant to violate their rights and privileges.  It will concentrate on women who were originally born in less advanced countries.

Women should be given a choice to either have an abortion at an established clinic in order to terminate her pregnancy or go to a progressive and well-equipped centre for women with no questions asked.  There they can place their baby girls under the guardianship of the state, and state needs to assure them about the proper care and education for their baby girls. Therefore in order to protect the well being of women and prevent the backstreet abortions, the following measures need to be put in place:

- Legalization of abortion,

- Wide and freely available facilities for pregnancy tests to ensure quick detection of unwanted pregnancies,

- Free abortion and free post-abortion care in licensed clinics by gynaecologists

- The decision whether to have or not to have an abortion rests with the woman alone; however the state has the duty to inform her about side effects, further  assistance from a social counselor is essential.

-public education around these measures through media, social media, schools, workshops, conferences, is an essential.

February 6, 2012

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Homa Arjomand

Contributor, resides in Toronto, Canada.

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