Whenever any of them is given the joyful news of the birth of a girl, his face darkens and he is filled with suppressed anger, avoiding people …debating [in his heart]: Shall he keep this child despite disgrace or bury it alive in dust? Evil indeed is whatever they decide” ( Qur'an – 16:58-59).
In 2005, 90 million women were estimated to be missing in seven Asian countries, apparently because of sex-selective abortion. It is estimated that by 2020 there could be more than 25 million young “surplus males” in India alone.
PRAYER FOR A SON
“The birth of a daughter, grant it elsewhere, here grant a son”. (A common prayer)
This sums up the attitude towards female children. Practised over centuries, it has resulted in a lower status for the girls in our society. For too long they faced discrimination from cradle to the grave. Centuries old traditions have created an insatiable desire for sons.
In agricultural societies, a son was preferred for economic reasons. In nomadic tribes females were a huge liability, especially in wars. They could not bear arms and had to be sheltered from the enemy’s reach for fear of exploitation as slave-girls. The girl child in India had been the most vulnerable for centuries. Most Indian parents despite higher education and prosperity even today consider the birth of a female child a bad omen and a drag on their financial well being.
Infanticide was a barbarous custom prevalent in many pre-Islamic societies. It was a disgrace but many patriarchal societies indulged in the horrid practice. Biological laws of human reproduction created and maintained a balanced sex ratio, despite customs, traditions, beliefs and crude medical technology.
DECLINING SEX RATIO
Foeticide and infanticide are the primary causes for declining sex ratio, especially in India and China.
In certain parts of Rajasthan one finds only male children born for decades. Where have the female children gone? As a result of infanticide of girls, male Rajasthani adults are now forced to buy their brides from remote corners of India irrespective of their caste, social status or religious affiliations.
Punjab is an otherwise economically prosperous region. However, Ludhiana in Punjab is one of the regions with the lowest sex ratio. In a recent survey, 67% of the farmers and half of non-farmers supported female foeticide. Most cited the economic hardship for not wanting a baby girl: “We could hardly afford one female child in the family.”
Bhatinda has middle sex ratio. But 52 per cent of the farming families and 48 per cent of non-farming families approved of female foeticide.
In both regions female respondents openly admitted to having undergone female foeticide. Many admitted that they could afford another child but only a son and not a daughter. (For details see Female Foeticide in Punjab by Ajinder Walia, 2005)
Majority of the respondents approved of female foeticide on escalating demands of dowry. Daughters were seen as unnecessary investment on bringing up girl children as the fruits of raising them are enjoyed by the in-laws.
DECLINING MORAL VALUES
The majority of the respondents acknowledged that the decline in sex ratio is leading to increase in sex offences and degradation of moral values in the society. Violence against women and trafficking in females is on the rise.
Sex-selective abortion was rare before the late 20th century, primarily because of the difficulty in determining the sex of the foetus before birth. With the advances in medical technology of detecting the sex of an unborn child, female foeticide – elimination of a female foetus through abortions – is now seen in India as an easy way to get rid of a girl child.
The latest advances in modern medical sciences – the tests like amniocentesis and ultra-sonography are widely abused. The tests which were originally designed for the detection of gender related congenital abnormality of the foetus are now being abused primarily to detect the sex of the foetus and getting it aborted.
LAWS AGAINST FOETECIDE
Some believe that strict implementation of laws is the cure. Most states have laws banning female foeticide. Some provide old age pension for parents who had no son. Many states have legislated free and compulsory education for girls and job reservation for women in specific occupations. Legally they are given an equal share in the property. However, it is agonising to acknowledge that the gender bias and deep-rooted prejudice and discrimination against girl child in India has now reached in the womb itself. The girl child in the womb faces the peril of pre-birth elimination i.e. female foeticide.
If the female foetus is lucky enough to survive till her birth then she faces the peril of elimination in infancy by female infanticide. In many communities killing of a girl child by nurse attendant (dai), mother, parents or others is prevalent without fear or shame. In some parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, it is openly bragged about.
Sex determination tests are not a ‘reproductive choice.’ The mother is forced to undergo the test either under extreme pressure from the husband, or the social prejudice of the family.
The supporters of sex detection tests argue that reducing unwanted female children would result in raising the status of women in Indian society. However, if the statistics are any indication, the areas with adverse sex ratio show higher incidence of violence against women and prostitution.
HOW MANY DIE?
There is no overall statistics on the number of girls who die annually from infanticide. Calculations are further clouded by the unreliability and ambiguity of much of the data. Nonetheless, a minimum estimate would place the casualties in the hundreds of thousands, especially when one takes into consideration that the phenomenon is most prevalent in the world’s two most populous countries.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
Infanticide is a crime overwhelmingly committed by parents. Besides enforcing the laws against female infanticide, a number of strategies can be implemented to try to address the problem.
Government regulations prohibiting the use of prenatal sex identification techniques for non-medical purposes should be strictly enforced, and violators should be punished accordingly.
The laws that punish people who commit infanticide, abandonment and neglect of female child, and the laws and regulations on the protection of women and children should be strictly broadened and enforced.
The campaigns to protect women and children from being kidnapped or sold into servitude should be effectively strengthened. Programmes should focus on effective public education, good counselling and service delivery.
But the real enforcer is God’s words on the sanctity of human life, and equality between men. With clear words Allah eradicates this deep-rooted heinous violation of human right:
“Don’t kill your children for fear of poverty – We provide for you and for them”, and “Whoever – male or female – does good and is a believer (Allah) shall make them live a good life and shall certainly reward the best for what they ever did” (16:97).
Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) promised Jannah for a person who properly raised two daughters and took care of them.
Laws create fear of punishment and they are ignored when the enforcement is missing or lax. But Belief in Allah’s words is ever-present in human hearts. That is what we have to spread.