Death in Womb – Female Foeticide
Once in our lives, we all have heard the phrase "Beta hi Hoga". This phrase is not just something people say rather than that it is a threat to our society, it's a threat to the existence of women in the country.
Before going deeper into this social evil first let's understand what exactly female foeticide means: In simple words, it is the process of finding out the gender of the foetus and if it comes out to be a girl, then terminating the pregnancy through abortion. This has been practised in India over the years killing millions of innocent female foetus.
It is very disheartening but it a fact that still, people are of the mindset that only boys can carry forward the legacy of family and a girl cannot. But this notion or mindset of people denies a basic fundamental right i.e. 'Right to life' to a girl. Despite various initiatives by the Government, Ngo's, women are stamp out through the practice of female foeticide as a result of the stereotypical mindset of all those who have preferential attitudes towards man.
This article talks about the responsible factors such as the dowry system, preference for boys etc., and consequences of the same concerning the ratio of boys and girls in the current scenario. It also deals with various provisions of law that prohibits female foeticide and describes the punishment for the same. However, the mere enactment of legislation is not an outright solution and therefore more and more awareness campaigns and policies are needed to have a deep cut in the number of cases of such heinous crime. The article also deals with some recommendations and solutions which can be carried out to deal with this brutal form of violence against women.
Dowry system: This old age system is one such thing that makes the parents worried as soon as they are blessed with a girl child and start thinking of all the expenses associated with her marriage and dowry. And this has led to a belief that daughters are a liability and for their marriage, sufficient financial resources have to be gathered so that they do not have to face any harassment or torture from her husband and in-laws. It is often said that this crime is committed for preventing a social evil of dowry which is widely prevalent in India. But the question which begs the attention is that "to prevent a crime is it necessary to commit another”.
Misuse of Technology: Test such as ultrasonography and prenatal diagnostic technique which were designed for the detection of congenital abnormalities are illegally used for knowing the sex of the foetus.
False belief: One of the important factors of foeticide are some false beliefs such as "Girls cannot forward the family lineage because after marriage they become the part of some other family and only boys can carry forward the lineage of the family”. Such false belief are hindrance in the overall development of the society as we know without women there will be no men.
Gender Inequality: UNDP‟s GII (Gender Inequality Index) 2021 in which India was ranked at 140 out of 156 nations reflects the very fact that in India, women are not provided with equal opportunities as a man in every sector and this affects their overall development.
Preference for Boys: The girls are generally considered as a liability whereas boys are considered as an asset who can fetch a handsome amount of dowry for the parents. This has created a stereotype notion of a girl as a "burden" on the household and further made people commit such crime.
Also, other factors which influence female foeticide in India are easy access to sex determination tests, Gender discrimination, objectification of a girl child, weak social security system, cultural significance and the list goes on. The outcome of these factors is huge as this practice has led to a deformed and unbalanced, skewed sex ratio. According to the Indian census 2011, the female to male ratio in India is 1.08 males for every female.
Female trafficking: Due to the declining no. of girls in society, people use such situation for their benefit. Girls of all age are kidnapped and are then sold to the highest bidder for a hefty amount of money to fulfil the demand of girls to teaming the number of males.
Increase in crimes against women: As observed, the number of women in India is declining as compared to the boys and this led to an increase in the number of crimes against women such as rape, sexual harassment etc. Even though Indian law has provisions safeguarding these women from such heinous crimes but the problem lies in reporting such crimes as people do not report such crimes in fear of humiliation, threats, isolation etc.
Low female-to-male ratios: A long term effect in human diversification is a skewed sex ratio. With each passing year, the number of girls in India is declining. Those days are not far away when there will be no girl to marry with boy and people will be bargaining for girls and this will further lead to social deprivation of females.
The law prohibiting Female Foeticide
Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of misuse) Act, was passed by the legislature in 1994 and it came into force from 01/01/1996. The main purpose of enacting this act was to prevent the use of pre-natal screening test to identify the sex of the foetus. The act was further amended in 2003 to ensure accountability of agencies and to develop an annual plan at the national, state and district level. It came to be known as the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.
Sec 312-316 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with miscarriage and death of an unborn child. The punishment under these provisions varies from seven years of imprisonment or fine to life imprisonment.
Voluntary Health Association of Punjab v. Union of India: It was observed and pointed out by Justice Dipak Mishra that when the foetus is destroyed for the reason of a girl child, the future of women is attacked and as a result, it leads to manifold social problems in future.
In another landmark case of Centre of enquiry into health and allied themes (CEHAT) v. Union of India (2003) 8 SCC 412, the petitioner moved to the court for the effective implementation of laws related to female foeticide. The court directed the authorities to comply with the mandates of the statute and also directed for amendment in the act given the advancement of technology. It also leads to the establishment of the National Monitoring and Implementation Committee to keep a watch on the implementation.
Lacunae in Laws:
The major drawback of this act is that it still lacks implementation.
The punishment in comparison to the benefits and money earned from these practices is relatively low.
Penalization of women acts provides protection to those who are providers of these facilities.
The main focus has only been on the registration of ultrasound machines and not on the real numbers of the culprits committing this crime.
Thus, the Act lacks implementation as inaction the act merely the first step to the cause. The real solution lies in the implementation of the act.
Other steps taken by the Government:
Beti Bachao Beti Padhao: It is an initiative by the Government started in January 2015, with a motive to improve planning and efficiency of services and policies for the overall development of women and to raise awareness regarding the rights available to women.
Mukhyamantri Rajshree Yojna: It is another government scheme related to encourage the birth of a girl child. In this scheme girls born in government, hospitals are granted the amount of Rupees 50,000/- for education and for providing them with a better future.
Udaan Scheme: It is a scheme launched by CBSE with a motive to address the enrollment gap in prestigious technical institutions. It also provides various incentives for girls to support them in taking leadership roles in future.
Balika Samriddhi Yojana: This scheme is another important initiative by the Central Government to support the birth and education of females. It focuses on granting the girls living below the poverty line with financial assistance so that they can have access to primary and secondary education without any financial burden.
Recommendations and Suggestions
Promoting and educating the people about the laws especially in rural areas.
Assessment of indicators like sex ratio, the mortality rate of females, literacy rate etc. regularly.
Training undergraduates, medical professionals and ingraining the strict code among them. These professionals can play a very crucial role in creating awareness among parents on Gender Equality and on consequences of female foeticide.
Easy process of filing a complaint so that it is accessible to everybody including the poor and illiterate.
Eroding the old settled mindset through education campaigns, Nukkad Natak etc.
The rise in income followed by the rising level of standards will increase the ability of people to have various options in life.
Reduction in crimes such as Rape, dowry, domestic violence etc. will make an impact on people insecurity towards the girl child.
Various seminars and workshops made available to parents in both the rural and urban sector to make them aware of the cause.
Heavy penalty or cancellation of license of doctors or medical staff who fulfils such demand of taking away the life of girl child.
In India, we worship great goddesses like Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati and on the contrary, there still exists heinous crimes against women and one of those crimes is female foeticide. This practice is not history and it is still banging on the head of every pregnant woman like a warning alarm and for this to prevent we all have to remind ourselves and others every day to wake up before this blunder brings an end to mankind.
Legislation like Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act of 1994 which forbid sex selection and regulate the techniques to prevent their misuse and campaign like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana which sought to increase and improve the efficiency of welfare towards girls in India. But despite these laws and schemes, there are many areas where female foeticide is still widely practised and the only solution to this social evil is changing attitudes.
The practise of killing the girl child is a most cruel and abominable act that must be stopped. The only way for that is to spread awareness and make people realize the consequences of not saving their daughter.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Female Foeticide: Need to Change The Mindset Of People,
International Measures to Control female foeticide, Chapter 5.
Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of sex selection) Act,1994.
Declining Sex Ratio in North India, Chapter 3, Shodganga.
Centre For Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT) v. Union of India & Others, 2003 (10) SCALE 11, (2003) 8 SCC 412.
Female foeticide in India, Alka Gupta.
Female foeticide in Rajasthan, rajras.in.
Rita Banerji Female Genocide in India and the 50 Million Missing Campaign Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific Issue 22, October 2009.
S. Puri, V Bhatia, HM Swami Gender Preference and Awareness Regarding Sex Determination amongMarried Women in Slums of Chandigarh Indian Journal of Community Medicine Vol. 32, No. 1.
P. Sundaramma, „Does Abortion Abet Female Foeticide‟ (The Hindu, 14th June, 2012).
Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, „Education of Female Foeticide‟, supremecourtofindia.
Flavia Agnes, Law and Gender Inequality – The Politics of Women‟s Rights in India, Oxford University Press.
By Vidhi Panjwani