‘Born to Die’: An Analysis of Female Infanticide and Foeticide in India

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Crime against women is a national shame. Sadly, the discrimination between males and females in our society persists. Many prefer a son over a daughter. Female infanticide and female foeticide are common social problems in India. They create a severe gender imbalance in society. Women are harassed, discriminated against, and exploited in almost every country.

Female infanticide means the deliberate killing of girls has been a problem for time immemorial. On the other hand,  Female foeticide is the selective abortion of female foetuses. Both these evils are results of the patriarchal nature of our society. It is disheartening to see that society puts social norms on a higher pedestal than humanity.

Laws curbing the practices in India

It is shocking to see that gender discrimination begins right from birth. In most parts of the country, parents welcome a boy with open arms. However, a female child is greeted with silence and even sorrow. According to a UN report, India is one of the most dangerous countries for women in the world.

The Indian Penal Code, 1860, contains provisions preventing miscarriage. Sections 312 to 318 under Chapter XVI penalize violent or forced abortion.

Further, the first legal response from the Government of India came in the year 1971. It was in the form of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. The Act legalized abortion in India for up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Per contra, the decision depends on certain conditions provided by a registered medical practitioner.

In 1994, the legislature passed the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques Act. Its preliminary object was to keep a check on female foeticide.  It bans the use of sex-selective techniques before or after conception. It also prevents the misuse of prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex-selective abortion. The Act was passed in response to the declining sex ratio in the country. It was amended in 2003 to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.

The Government has launched various initiatives to ensure the protection of the girl child. These include programs like the BetiBachao BetiPadhao initiative. Though we have laws, the 2011 Census shows a drop from 927 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 to 914 girls in 2011.

The root cause of the problem

Unfortunately, India is not the only country with a patriarchal society. Many countries are still struggling with these issues. India is ranked 4th in a UN study on female infanticide. It had a Gender Inequality Index ranking of 132 out of 148 countries in 2013.

Azerbaijan ranks 5th in the UN study on female infanticide. It also has a patriarchal society like India. A recent survey carried out in Azerbaijan showed that the rate of abortions has increased. Families are more interested in having boy babies. It is because many consider boys to be useful in providing financial support in the future. It is not a surprise that a preference for having sons is prevalent in Azerbaijan. People also believe that sons provide a sense of security to their families. However, they see girls as a burden on the family.

The Government of Azerbaijan is also struggling to curb female infanticide and foeticide. The Government has decided on legislation to curb sex-selective abortion. They have included it in their ‘Family Planning and Reproductive Health’ scheme. This legislation is similar to the one we have in India.

Present Scenario

The Cabinet approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill 2020. The action was in response to a PIL filed in the Supreme Court in 2019 seeking amendment of abortion laws. The amendment takes into account the advances in medical technology. Moreover, it increases women’s access to safe abortion services.

Despite this, the increasing number of cases is evidence of the lacuna present in the law. In March, two cases of female infanticide were reported in the state of Tamil Nadu. In the first case, a couple murdered their one-month-old baby girl. In the second case, a mother and her mother-in-law killed a six-day-old baby girl by feeding her poison.

It is disheartening to see how we deprive a girl of her fundamental right – the Right to Life. One of the main reasons behind these practices is the hold of patriarchy in our society. Lack of awareness among people aggravates the issue. Families believe that a boy carries the name of the family forward and brings security. However, a girl is seen as a burden.

Concluding Remarks

In the era of modernization, gender inequality is quite shocking and disheartening. Isn’t a female infant a human being too? Do we have any rights to take away the life of an innocent infant only because she is a girl? Every time we come across news of female infants thrown into garbage bins or on railway tracks or in drains, we all should be ashamed that we as a society are failing.

Merely bringing in legislations will not lead to a change in society. There needs to be proper implementation of the same. Law is a powerful instrument to bring about a change. However, it is not easy to eradicate a crime like that of female infanticide from society. As the future generation, we can bring about a change in our society. It is high time that we should make efforts to make India a safe place for females and put an end to this social evil.

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