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Calls for reform over India's 'vanishing girls'

Social preference for male children has created a worsening situation of gender inequality

Calls for reform over India's 'vanishing girls'

Activist Sabu M. George addresses a national consultation on India’s unbalanced gender ratio in New Delhi on May 2. Girls are often seen as a financial burden in India. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)

Indians’ preference for male children has created a skewed gender ratio but the trend could be reversed with social change and government determination to implement laws, say rights activists.

About 100 medical doctors, activists and lawyers attended a national consultation in New Delhi on May 2 with the theme “Vanishing girls: Revisiting civil society response against sex selection.”

The consultation aimed to find ways to check the worsening situation of gender inequality and rampant prenatal sex determination tests and female feticide, said Rizwan Parwez, co-coordinator of Girls Count, which organized the event with other groups.

“It is our duty and obligation to sensitize people about the rights of women because every child is precious and both girls and boys have an equal right to life and liberty,” Parwez said.

India’s predominantly male gender ratio comes from its social preference for boys, speakers said.

Most Hindu families look forward to having boys to continue their family line. Traditionally, Hindus also believe the soul of a father will attain eternity only if his son lit the funeral pyre.

On the other hand, girls are seen as a financial burden as they need to be given money and jewelry as a dowry to marry them off. Families continue to abort female fetuses until they conceive a boy, several speakers noted.

Aiming to arrest the trend, the federal government in 1994 enacted a law banning the use of technology for prenatal sex determination and selective abortions.

But Parwez said selective abortions continue and there is a “serious lack of awareness among people about the importance of the sex ratio.”

The sex ratio in the 0-6 age group has been declining steadily. It fell from 976 girls to 1,000 boys in 1961 to 927 girls in 2001. It further dipped to 918 girls in 2011.

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A major reason was the government’s lax implementation of the law on selective abortions, said Anushree Bernard, campaign coordinator of Vanishing Girls, an initiative of Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy forum.

The Christian group is part of Girls Count, a national coalition of more than 400 civil organizations.

Amitabh Behar, chief executive officer of Oxfam India, proposed creating a mechanism to ensure that the law on selective abortion is implemented and the government is held accountable for its implementation.

A study by the Asian Centre for Human Rights showed that in the 20 years from 1994 to 2014 police recorded only 2,021 court cases across India for violating the law on prenatal sex selection. Convictions followed in only 206 cases.

Activist Sabu M. George told the consultation that female infanticide and deliberate neglect of girls also need to be addressed.

The government in 2015 launched a special campaign and introduced several schemes to encourage protection of girls.

“But most of the government schemes are only on paper,” said George, who teaches in the department of nursing and health at Anna University in Tamil Nadu, southern India.

Participants proposed to launch a mass movement with street marches, seminars and advocacy aiming to educate the government and society about the issue.

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