In an age when females have made progress in almost every field, there are people who still accord a lower status to women. In some of our Indian societies, while a childless woman is perceived as incomplete, one who has given birth to daughters is partially complete. Only the one who has produced a son enjoys a status of sorts. The problem is intimately related to the institution of dowry. "If it's a girl child, we will have to spend first on her education and then on her marriage and dowry ... It doesn't stop there. We will also have to meet some of her expenses after marriage. How I wish I could get a son!"
Social pressures in India, and the presence of low-cost technologies like ultrasound, have led to sex-based abortion of female fetuses, and an increasingly smaller percentage of girls born each year.
The bias against females is also related to the fact that sons are looked at as a type of insurance. Even our religions have been prejudiced towards women. According to Manu, a woman has to be reborn as a man to attain moksha (redemption). A man cannot attain moksha unless he has a son to light his funeral pyre. Also, it says a woman who gives birth to only daughters may be left in the eleventh year of marriage. It is a common saying in India, Ladka marey kambakth ka; Ladki marey bhaagwaan ki
("It's a fool who loses his male child and the fortunate one who loses a girl child"). Obviously, it shows the gender bias in our male-dominated, patriarchal society.
Prevalence and Spread of Female Feticide
In India, the practice of sex-selective abortion or female feticide (in which an unborn baby is aborted or killed before birth simply because it is not a boy) is only the latest manifestation of a long history of gender bias, evident in the historically low and declining population ratio of women to men. Moreover, the medical fraternity in India has been quick to see entrepreneurial opportunities in catering to the insatiable demand for a male child. Until recently, the technology was prohibitively expensive.
The three chief pre-natal diagnostic tests that are being used to determine the sex of a fetus are amniocentesis, chronic villi biopsy (CVB) and ultrasonography. Amniocentesis is meant to be used in high-risk pregnancies, in women over 35 years. CVB is meant to diagnose inherited diseases like thalassaemia, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. Ultrasonography is the most commonly used technique. It is non-invasive and can identify up to 50 per cent of abnormalities related to the central nervous system of the fetus. But sexing has become its preferred application.
A ban on the government departments at the centre and in the states, making use of pre-natal sex determination for the purpose of abortion -- a penal offence -- led to the commercialization of the technology; private clinics providing sex determination tests through amniocentesis multiplied rapidly and widely. These tests are made available in areas that do not even have potable water, with marginal farmers willing to take loans at 25 per cent interest to have the test. Advertisements appear blatantly encouraging people to abort their female fetuses in order to save the future cost of dowry. The portable ultrasound machine has allowed doctors to go from house to house in towns and villages. In a democracy it is difficult to restrict right to business and livelihood if the usual parameters are fulfilled.
Female Feticide and Law
There has been an inability to discuss the issue of feticide without the larger debate on abortion, which is legally allowed and has been seen as a triumph of the women's rights movement in the