Time to wake up
DENYING FEMALES THEIR RIGHT TO BE BORN IS BARBARIC, WRITES DR. REHANA KAUSAR
Killing of female babies is by no means new. What is new, however, is the technology employed. In ancient Arabia, killing of daughters by burial was a norm. In Greece of 200 B.C., for example, the murder of female infants was so common that among 6,000 families living in Delphi no more than 1 percent had two daughters. Among all there were only 28 daughters to 118 sons. In India, because of Hindu dowry system and the rigid caste system, young girls were murdered as a matter of course. Killing female babies, before or after birth, is arguably the most brutal and destructive manifestation of the anti-female bias that pervades "patriarchal" societies. Experts call it Gendercide and it is an all-pervading phenomenon in patriarchal societies.
In India when demographic statistics were first collected in the nineteenth century, it was discovered that in "some villages, no girl babies were found at all; in a total of thirty others, there were 343 boys to 54 girls.Ē In the nearly 300 poor hamlets of the Usilampatti area of Tamil Nadu, as many as 196 girls died under suspicious circumstances in 1993. Some were fed dry, unhulled rice that punctured their windpipes, or were made to swallow poisonous powdered fertilizer. Others were smothered with a wet towel, strangled or allowed to starve to death. In north Indian states, most deliveries take place at home with just a few village women present with the lady. It is very easy to just strangle the poor baby girl at birth or kill her by refusing to breast feed her with none the wiser.
We share this overpowering son preference with our neighbor known for its patriarchal culture---China. In China, the One Child Policy created heavy financial penalties for couples who had more than one child and led to the murder of female infants. Baby girls are even called "maggots in the rice". Anyone who has read ĎThe Good EarthĒ by Pearl S Buck will be familiar with the centuries old bias against the girl child in China. The imbalance between the sexes is now so distorted that there are 111 million men in China -- more than three times the population of Canada -- who will not be able to find a wife. As a result, the kidnapping and slave-trading of women has increased: Since 1990, say official Chinese figures, 64,000 women -- 8,000 a year on average -- have been rescued by authorities from forced 'marriages'.
The thirst for women is so acute that the slave trader gangs are even reaching outside China to find merchandise. There are regular reports of women being abducted in such places as northern Vietnam to feed the demand in China
In a disturbing trend, Jammu and Kashmir has shown a decline in the child sex ratio in 2011 Census. This ratio has shown a sharp decline in the State from 941 in 2001 to 859 as per the 2011 census. The overall sex ratio of the State has also declined from 892 in 2001 to 883 as per census 2011. The declining child sex ratio is a major concern for the State since it would lead to serious socio cultural problems including gender imbalance in population. While the population has been pegged at more than 1.25 crore, indicating a decadal growth of more than 23 per cent, the literacy rate has shown encouraging trends yet the sex ratio has fallen.
The area of grave concern for the state is the drastic fall in the child sex ratio. Traditionally, sons carry on the family name and are charged with the task of supporting their parents in old age. The majority of sex selective abortions take place in families where there are two or more children, particularly daughters The problem is also intimately tied to the institution of dowry, in which the family of a prospective bride must pay enormous sums of money to the family in which the woman will live after marriage. Though formally outlawed, the institution is still pervasive. The combination of dowry and wedding expenses usually add up to more than a million rupees. Given these figures combined with the low status of women, it seems not so illogical that the poorer Indian families would want only male children. Gender-based discrimination in the allocation of resources persists and increases, even when availability of resources is not a constraint. Culture dictates that when a girl marries she leaves her family and becomes part of her husband's family. For this reason people have for many centuries wanted a son to ensure there is someone to look after them in their old age -- having a boy child is the best pension a person can get. Itís like a bank draft which you cash in your old age.
However, what baffles everyone is that sex selective abortions are done not by poor, rural, illiterate women but by urban, educated women. It may be because urban educated women are more aware of technology and have access to it. But with USG clinics booming everywhere and mobile USG clinics run by private practitioners it has become a free for all. This cancer is spreading from urban to rural areas in parallel with the increase in USG clinics. Look at Kupwara---- the sex ratio has come down from1021 in 2001 to 854 in 2011. Kupwara has slipped from ninth place in 2001 to 20 in Census 2011!
Similarly central Kashmir district of Badgam also slipped from fourth place to 12th after drop in the sex ratio in 2011. Against 931 female for per 1000 males, the number dropped to 883 this year. What these figures mean is that the girls havenít vanished overnight but at least a decade of sex selection and female feticide has reached genocide proportions in our state.
Thanks to USG clinics sex determination has become a lucrative business. Despite their growing numbers, fetal sex determination and sex selective abortion by unethical medical professionals has today grown into a Rs. 1,000 crore industry (US$ 244 million). The business started in 1974 when amniocentesis was introduced in the premier institution of AIIMS for detecting genetic abnormalities in the fetus. But very soon enterprising doctors used this technology for sex determination of fetus at 16 weeks. I remember women used to flock to Amritsar from the valley to get the test done and subsequently get rid of the female. Soon chorionic villus biopsy came along which could determine the sex of the fetus at 6 weeks. But the icing on the deadly cake was USG----non invasive, cheap at Rs 500 and easily available. The problem is compounded by the ready availability of mobile USG clinics which can drive in to any village or neighborhood unchecked.
Technology has shown that it is possible to do pre conception sorting of male and female embryos. This actually was done in IVF treatment of infertile women where abnormal embryos after fertilization would be discarded. Now they simply discard the XX embryo! The latest to join the bandwagon is MICROSORT a technology that allows sorting of sperms and allowing only the Y sperms to carry on the fertilization. The best part is that this technology is available in Thailand and not in India. So rich couples flock to Thailand and get the dirty work done there. Of course , this strata of people who go to foreign lands to prevent an unwanted birth are well heeled and its difficult to understand why they do it. They can afford a dowry, a good education for their daughters ----then why this overwhelming desire for a male?
We have to understand that whenever the population of a state comes down by coercion (as in China) or by a state sponsored family planning programme it will be at the cost of female babies. On one hand the GoI has legalized abortion under the MTP Act 1994 and on the other hand we stop people from sex selective abortion under PCPNDT Act. This easy availability of USG to know sex of baby and availability of abortion under MTP rules is too good an opportunity for unscrupulous doctors and parents to let go of. And now look what it has done to our sex ratio. A sex ratio so skewed towards males will have repercussions in the coming years. The government needs to rethink its strategy. Education and economic prosperity donít seem to work, in fact it works in the opposite direction! What we need is a stringent implementation of PCPNDT act and restricting access to abortion to prevent sex selection. An integrated approach to both the laws i.e. MTP Act 1974 and PCPNDT Act 1994 is required. We need to look into the loopholes in the PCPNDT act and forcefully implement it rather than look upon it as a toothless tiger. Till date, in Kashmir, no doctor has been booked under PNDT act and hence no conviction. Non implementation of the PCPNDT Act has been the biggest failure of the campaign against sex selection. As the figures show, sex selective abortions have been going on with impunity and this has to be stopped. Most importantly, a change in mind sets is required but the change in patriarchal values will not occur in a day. We need empowerment of women in the state by increasing the number of women as MPs, MLAs, managers, and in decision making posts. Financial empowerment of women could be brought about by banks giving soft loans and microcredit to women entrepreneurs to make them self sufficient. Having said that, it is more of a social/cultural mania than an economic necessity as sex selective abortions do not take place in Sub Saharan Africa, Latin America or in other poor societies. Religious scholars and speakers just cannot shrug their responsibility. We have to speak against dowry, sexual violence abuse and neglect. And the sooner we do it the better it is. Experts warn that the demographic crisis will lead to increasing sexual violence and abuse against women and female children, trafficking, increasing number of child marriages, increasing maternal deaths due to abortions and early marriages and increase in practices like polyandry.
What pains more is that we are followers of Islam and our Prophet (SAW) waged a crusade against the inhuman practice of burial of female babies in Arabia. If we do not take action now we will be reduced to a society of barbarians.
Lastupdate on : Tue, 10 May 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 10 May 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 11 May 2011 00:00:00 IST
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