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'Missing females' show India's preference for male children

Maher founder warns that Indian society must learn to respect women and their importance

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'Missing females' show India's preference for male children

Delhi University students perform on International Day of the Girl in October 2019. (Photo: Bijay Kumar/UCA News)

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A United Nations health agency estimates that India has registered around 45.8 million “missing females" due to sex selection over the past 50 years, accounting for 32 percent of the world’s total.

A report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) titled “State of World Population 2020” said the global number had doubled since 1970, with an increase of 57 percent taking the total to 142.6 million.

China has 72.3 million missing females or 51 percent of the total, stated the report published on June 30.

“Missing females” are women missing from the population at given dates due to the cumulative effect of prenatal and postnatal sex selection, the agency said.

“It is a matter of great concern for the Indian government as well as for civil society and it must think of a solution to change the mindset of people and society to respect women and understand their importance, otherwise the gender ratio will always see an imbalance,” said Sister Lucy Kurien, the founder and director of Maher, a community and interfaith organization for abused and destitute women and children.

She told UCA News that the preference for boys among families is because sons are generally considered to be the breadwinners.

“They are preferred for the economic stability they supposedly bring. The burden of a dowry leads many parents to consider a girl as a financial liability for the future,” said Sister Kurien of the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod.

“Families fear that any property inherited by women risks falling into the control of her in-laws. Many cultural rites and traditions in India are required to be performed by the son and hence sons are considered of greater value to the family.”

She said Maher (mother's home) is open to all. She assists destitute women and children irrespective of caste, creed or religion.

The UNFPA report says gender imbalances at birth are mainly a result of gender-biased or prenatal sex selection and a global trend toward small families.

Although sex selection before birth is prohibited in India, the report said 400,600 girls were missing at birth in the country from 2013 to 2017 because of a preference for boys

Gender-biased sex selection accounts for about two-thirds of the missing girls, while post-birth mortality accounts for the rest.

Sex selection has led to dramatic and long-term shifts in the proportions of women and men in the populations of many countries, the report said. This demographic imbalance will have an inevitable impact on marriage systems.

In countries where marriage is nearly universal, many men may need to delay or forgo marriage because they will be unable to find a spouse, the report said.

In India, one third of women who married before the age of 18 had experienced physical violence, whereas 17 percent of women married after 18 suffered violence.

The report cited a survey of more than 8,000 women conducted across Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Rajasthan states, where child marriage is prevalent.

UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem said that “harmful practices against girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their full potential.”

Tehmina Arora, the New Delhi-based director of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said: “We need to adopt a model of LIFE for all girls — love, inheritance, freedom and equality.

“The girls in our families, and those yet unborn, need advocates who will love them, ensure that they have the same rights to family property as their brothers, their freedoms are protected and promoted, and that they are treated with equal dignity and respect.”

ADF is a network of lawyers seeking to arrest the practice of female feticide through its Vanishing Girls campaign.

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