Sex-selective abortion in India
Sex Selective Abortion in India
An empirical survey by Arnold, Kishor, and Roy (2002) indicates that women in most societies across the world give birth to slightly few girls than boys. This natural phenomenon has resulted in a sex ratio averaging between 104 and 107 males for every 100 female children born. However, as the children grow up, the sex ratio becomes more balanced because infant mortality rate tends to be high among boys than girls.
Rutherford and Roy (2003) also noted that in most societies across the world, people tend to prefer boys than girls. Notably, such societies have developed several cultural practices that have directly contributed to abnormally high sex ratios, essentially favoring the male gender. For instance, the practice of neglecting and mistreating female children, which has subsequently contributed to high female mortality rates in such societies. In extreme cases, some families use female infanticides while some societies do not report the birth of baby girls. In 1980s, Chinese couples who wanted sons but had girls were forced to give away some of their girl-child for adoption. More recently in India, the use of technology to determine sex of unborn fetus has led to a record increase in the number of male births; coupes use this technology for selective abortion of female foetuses.
In other countries such as Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, there enough evidence suggesting that people are using technology to enhance sex selective abortion. The combination of cultural son preference and the use of new technology is actually posing serious economic, social as well as ethical dilemma especially to policymakers. Globally, incidences of sex selective abortion are on the increase. In most cases, couples chose to abort girl-child because they favor boys. Indicators of son preferences are numerous and most societies are well aware of them.
Sex selective abortion
Ganatra, Hirve, and Rao (2001) defined sex selective abortion as the practice whereby pregnant mothers choose to or are compelled to terminate their unborn (foetuses) based on their predicted gender. This practice is general fuelled by some cultural norms that the society has placed on a specific gender. For instance, in some eastern Asian countries such as Pakistan, China, and India, there is a highly developed cultural norm for the presence of male child to female one thus enhancing the selective abortion of female foetuses before they grow and born as children. In addition, sex selection abortion of female foetuses is also common in African countries because of their cultural practice that has placed high stake on male child over the female one.
The practice of sex selective abortion has great impact on human sex ratio and its overall balance. For instance, it limits the possibility of the natural relative balance in the number of males to females in the society or any given group. Various statistical studies assume that the overall birth sex ratio is an indication of the sex selective abortion in the society. As a result, countries that have high birth sex ratios (normally 108 or above) are considered to significantly practice sex selective abortion. This assumption is greatly supported by scholars who argue that the naturally expected birth sex ratio for males to females should range between 103 and 107 respectively. However, many scholars such as Ramaiah, Chandrasekarayya and Murthy (2011) have questioned this assumption and some propose that the overall birth sex ratio maybe a natural phenomenon not greatly influenced by sex selective abortion.
Background on Sex-Selective Abortion in India
The statistics of sex ratio in India is a bit disturbing given the level by which it has dropped between 1961 and 2014. As illustrated by Patel (2007), for children aged between zero and six years, the female to male sex ratio has significantly dropped from 976 to 914 per every 1000 male children born. The sharp decline in the male to female sex ratio is largely attributed to the practice of sex selective abortion and the emergence of new reproductive technologies. Many people outside India perceived the high male to female sex ratio as the ultimate manifestation of the ongoing gender discrimination in the country.
In addition, the country has experienced skewed sex ratio for a very long time, an incidence that is directly linked with the overall deterioration of women status as well as the increased human trafficking in the country. Even though the country has been forefront in putting restrictive legislations such as Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act of 1994, technology and new reproductive methods are being used illegally by many clinics in India to facilitate sex selective abortion, thus resting in worsening sex ratios in the country.
In India, the child sex ratio is following a region pattern. Furthermore, the birth sex ratio in the eastern states in India is lower than normal. An empirical survey by Dubuc and Coleman (2007) found that all southern and eastern states in India have a sex ratio ranging between 103 and 107, which is typically considered a natural ratio. On the other hand, the north western and northern states were found to have the highest sex ratios in India, which was ranging between 111 and 120 girls per 1000 boys born.
Sex ratio in different regions
|Region||Girls 100 boys|
|Jammu & Kashmir||116|
Other data suggest that there is a positive correlation between the abnormal sex ratio and the socioeconomic status as well as the literacy level in India. The country experiences a high level of sex ratio in urban areas than rural areas, which might imply higher prevalence of sex selective abortion in urban areas. In addition, as explained by Lamichhane et al (2011), regions in India that are predominantly Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh has higher sex ratio than others do. These data might suggest that sex selection in India is an archaic practice that takes place along poor, religious, and undedicated sections, however, other data contract this hypothesis.
Ganatra, Hirve, and Rao (2001) suggested in their paper that techniques for determining prenatal sex become very popular in India after their introduction in mid 1970s. Since then, these techniques are increasingly being used and there are widely available in 17 out of 19 states in India. They further claim that, where available, such techniques only favour male births rather than female ones. Other researchers such as Hesketh, Lu, and Xing (2011) have strongly argued that sex-screening techniques have significantly contributed to the skewed sex ratio in India.
There is continued spread of ultrasound in India which is another factor linked to the abnormal sex ratio in the country. Some studies such as Bharadwaj and Lakdawala (2013) suggest that recent rapid spread of ultrasound might be a driving factor in the prenatal female abortion in India. Over the past decides, Indian government and other interested stakeholders have continuously debated and discussed sex selection especially in coming with ways to prevent it. Prenatal sex selection is widely considered immoral but no legal action has been taken to prevent. On the other hand, some quotas have also strongly questioned the immorality of sex selective abortion.
In 1971, India passed its first abortion related law called Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which did not specifically talk about sex selective abortion. Even though it made abortion illegal in most states, it also provides reasons under which it can be accepted. The weakness of this law is that it did not consider sex selective abortion. Later, considering the increasing availability of sex screening technologies, the law was amended in 2004 to deter and punish sex selective abortion. Since 2004, the impact of the new law, the PCPNDT Act in 2004, in deterring sex selective abortion in India is not clear.
Evidence of Sex Selective Abortion in India
(a) Son Preference
The deep cultural and social root of son preference among the Indian societies is a strong evidence of sex selective abortion practice. Historically, in India, male children have been carrying family name and inheriting family properties. In most cases, the eldest son of the family leads family ceremonies. Son preference is also supported by various powerful economic factors in Indian societies. One significant aspect of son preference as evidence of sex selective abortion in India is the high mortality rate among girls than boys. Over the last two decades, the mortality rate for age zero to four has been strongly influenced by the child’s gender; the country experiences anomalous excess female child mortality.
(b) Declining Fertility Rate
The overall declining fertility rate in India has been theorized as one of the significant evidence of the continuous sex selective abortion practiced in the country. In addition, some studies such as Nandi and Deolalikar (2013) have shown that there is a relationship between contraceptive use and cultural son preference, which is further declining the overall fertility rate. An empirical survey by Unnithan-Kumar (2010) indicated that more than 90% of couples who have two children and at least a son is using contraceptives or other family planning methods. In another study, Bhaskar (2011) established that pregnant women who had at least two daughters are more likely to abort if they realize the foetus is a girl. The tendency to abort if the pregnancy is not the preferred baby boy is contributing to the declining fertility rate in India. Over the past decades, the advancements in technology and the use of sex-selective abortion has resulted in declining fertility rate in the country.
(c) Changing Population Dynamic
The changing population dynamic is another clear evidence of sex selective abortion in India. The fertility rate in the country started falling when foetal sex screening and abortion became widely available to couples and other pregnant women. The current India population demography indicates that the fertility rate started changing after the introduction of foetal screening in the country. The sex distribution of the national population is skewed towards the male gender. The resulting sex imbalance is largely attributed to the sex selective abortion practised by many people in the country. According to Bhaskar (2011), the sex ratio for the firstborn child is greatly rising in the favour of male births. Because in china most couples tend to want a baby boy followed by a daughter, they resort to using sex selective abortion to achieve this ideal composition but the practice has created imbalance in the population dynamic.
Factors contributing to sex selective abortion in India
Various factors are proposed and theorized to the reasons for sex selective abortion practice in India. The major factors considered are (a) cultural son preference, (b) gendered access to resources.
(a) Cultural son preference
India, just like other countries such as china and African nations, has historical culture favouring male children. Historically, before the formal civilization and information era, Indians preefrred male children because of their ability to provide manual labour; this practice continued through family lineage even during the information era. In developing nations, such as India, labour is a very important factor that plays great role in the cultural practice and setups. Retherford and Roy (2003) asserted that the sex selective abortion practice in India is very high in areas or regions where the society has placed high cultural norms on male children. In these areas, a son is highly preferred because it is seen as a family asset due to his ability to provide for the family. In addition, sons are favoured because they are expected to take care of their parents in old age. In the entire India, the cultural pattern of sex selective abortion can be seen as the desire to have a male heir.
(b) Gendered access to resources
Ganatra, Hirve, and Rao (2001) argued that some of the variations in sex ratio in India are due to disparate access to resources. Notably, some regions in India have significant differences in access to immunization, healthcare, as well as food between female and male children, which have subsequently led to high infant mortality among female children. In India, gendered access to resources is strongly linked to social and economic factors whereby some poor families being forced to ration foods. In such cases, the affected families choose to give less to their daughters. In addition, the differences in job types and wages between females and males also contribute to the sex selective abortion practice in India. Bhaskar (2011) noted that in India resources such as education, job, and roles among others are not allocated equitably among the gender groups.
Societal Effects of Sex Selective Abortion in India
There four major societal effects of sex selective abortion in India namely missing women, human trafficking, sex work, and lastly gender social gap.
(a) Missing women
In India, the number of women who are missing due to the practice of sex selective abortion is very high; some die in the process of abortion while others are lost through various means. Unnithan-Kumar (2010) estimated that if India the natural sex ratio then about 11% of women is missing from the current population. The number of missing women has been steadily increasing since the introduction of new technologies that enhance abortion and foetal sex identification. Over the past few years, there has been growing concern over the critical shortage of wives and women in India. The shortage of women in some areas has led to an increase in imbalance in the population dynamics. Other factors attributed to missing women are the declining birth rates and high sex ratios. The number of missing women has increased in India because female foetuses are selectively chosen for abortion while male ones are favoured to grow.
(b) Increasing gender social gap
Over the past years, India has been on the spotlight for its widening gender social gap. A common problem is that families in regions that have higher sex ratio, which is mostly sons, tend to have few members than families that have more daughters. It is theorized that these families have few members because they are using sex selective abortion to achieve their ideal composition, a practice that has resulted in widening gender social gap in these regions. In addition, the social gap between males and females continue to widen in India because of the cultural discrimination and disparity in resource allocation. The outcome of sex selective abortion practice is disproportional sex ratio that ideally favours male gender. The increasing gender social gap is also noticed on the way the available resources are distributed between the male and female members of the society; there is general lack of equality and fair distribution of resources.
(c) Human trafficking and sex workers
Some scholars such as Bharadwaj and Lakdawala (2013) have attributed the increasing rate of human trafficking and high number of sex workers in India as an outcome of the sex selective abortion being practiced in the country. Some are forced into trafficking and sex work while others freely choose for themselves. The number of sex workers has increased because many people are willing to do more to have sexual partner yet the sex ratio is imbalanced. Some women are forcefully trafficked from other regions and forced into marriage in India due to the overall lack of adequate women in those areas. As the sex ratio increases in India due to sex selective abortion, commercial sex work and sex related crimes such as molestation and rape are on the increase.
Positive effects of sex selective abortion in India
Much of the literature available as well as the ones discussed above focused on highlighting the negative impact of sex selective abortion in India and other countries. Despite the negative outcomes, the practice has also lead to some potential positive impacts. According to Dubuc and Coleman (2007), some regions in India have started putting higher value on women because of their relative shortage. They are now seeing the value and importance of women in the society because of the missing wives and sufficient sex partners among other reasons. The society has started putting increased reproductive function and conjugal value on women due to their scarcity. Even though the outcome is not yet clear, this may have a positive impact on the society by eventually increasing the social conditions for women followed by an increased or more balanced sex ratio. Some regions in India have started shifting towards the natural sex ratio as the birth of more women is being favoured to fill in the gender gap.
The relative position of women in the society has started increasing as they become fewer and fewer. Many people have started seeing the significance and women and their crucial position in the society. The outcome of this has been the reducing level of gendered social gap and discriminations. Currently, women are being allowed to take some roles in the society that were largely preserved for men only. In addition, women are increasingly being treated with dignity and honor realizing their significant roles and position in the society.
Patel (2007) also suggested that the sex selective abortion might have positive effect on the mother if she chooses to abort the female foetus and only have male births. Even though the morality of this practice is still largely questioned, it has enabled many women to fulfil their historical duty of producing a son who will carry the family name and be the heir. In the Indian society, whenever a woman gives birth to male child, she gains her status in the society. This sex selective abortion carries a positive impact of helping women gain their status and dignity in the society. In the Indian society, whenever a woman gives birth to a son, she gets greater legitimacy as well as appropriate agency for mother. Some women use sex selective abortion to select male foetuses, a practice which helps them attain greater status in the family.
Some scholars such as Ramaiah, Chandrasekarayya and Murthy (2011) have strongly argued that sex selective abortion carries a positive effect of helping eliminate some of the discriminations women are subjected to due to the cultural son preference. The practice has essential help evade some of the discrimination that women face in their lifetime if they do not get male children. Most of women in India are happy in their marriages and are not discriminated against because they secretly used sex selective abortion to eliminate female foetuses. In addition, in this way, sex selective abortion is seen as an alternative option to abandonment, infanticide, as well as neglect, which are some of the greatest problems faced by the girl-child in the society. Over the past years, since the introduction of technology that enhances sex selective abortion was introduced in the country, the problem of the rate child abandonment, neglect, and infanticide has significantly reduced.
With the strong son preference in India, there is growing evidence that many couples are using new technology to enhance sex selective abortion. Modern technologies such as ultrasound among others are being used to identified the sex of the foetus, the result of which determines the couple’s choice of sex selective abortion of the female ones. Over the past years since its introduction, the popularity of advanced sex determination techniques has significantly increased in India. The practice of sex selective abortion has created great gender imbalance the population dynamic has greatly shifted from the natural male to female sex ratio.
In India, the growing number of evidence indicates that the combination of son preference and the use of new technology are posing great threat and dilemma to the social, economic, as well as ethical setup of the country. The government of India has respondent positively to the growing practice of sex selective abortion in the country by passing some laws to curb it. Even though these laws have been designed to curb the practice, they have not been effective in fulfilling their purpose and few people in India have been arrested of sex selective abortion. Furthermore, the practice continues to thrive illegally especially in private hospitals and clinics. The morality of sex selective abortion is widely debated and discussed in India and there is great divide between the supporters and the opponents.
Arnold, F., Kishor, S., & Roy, T. K. (2002). Sex‐Selective Abortions in India. Population and development review, 28(4), 759-785.
Bharadwaj, P., & Lakdawala, L. K. (2013). Discrimination begins in the womb: evidence of sex-selective prenatal investments. Journal of Human Resources, 48(1), 71-113.
Bhaskar, V. (2011). Sex selection and gender balance. American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, 3(1), 214-244.
Dubuc, S., & Coleman, D. (2007). An Increase in the Sex Ratio of Births to India‐born Mothers in England and Wales: Evidence for Sex‐Selective Abortion. Population and Development Review, 33(2), 383-400.
Ganatra, B., Hirve, S., & Rao, V. N. (2001). Sex-selective abortion: Evidence from a community-based study in western India. Asia Pacific Population Journal, 16(2), 109-124.
Hesketh, T., Lu, L., & Xing, Z. W. (2011). The consequences of son preference and sex-selective abortion in China and other Asian countries. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 183(12), 1374-1377.
Lamichhane, P., Harken, T., Puri, M., Darney, P. D., Blum, M., Harper, C. C., & Henderson, J. T. (2011). Sex-selective abortion in Nepal: a qualitative study of health workers’ perspectives. Women’s Health Issues, 21(3), S37-S41.
Nandi, A., & Deolalikar, A. B. (2013). Does a legal ban on sex-selective abortions improve child sex ratios? Evidence from a policy change in India. Journal of Development Economics, 103, 216-228.
Patel, T. (Ed.). (2007). Sex-selective abortion in India: Gender, society and new reproductive technologies. Sage.
Ramaiah, G. J., Chandrasekarayya, T., & Murthy, P. V. (2011). Declining child sex ratio in India: Trends, Issues and Concerns. Asia-Pacific Journal of Social Sciences, 3(1), 183-198.
Retherford, R. D., & Roy, T. K. (2003). Factors affecting sex-selective abortion in India and 17 major states.
Unnithan-Kumar, M. (2010). Female selective abortion–beyond ‘culture’: family making and gender inequality in a globalising India. Culture, health & sexuality, 12(2), 153-166.
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