Son preference in India is a well documented fact and its implications on skewed sex ratios, female feticide and high child morality rates is no news either. For over a century India has shown marked gap in the number is boys vs girls born each year. With technological advancement this gap is only increasing.
Indians worship the goddesses in temples but kill their daughters at home. Preference for boys over girls is driven by these factors:
- Sons are expected to provide emotional and social care to parents especially in their old age as well as are responsible for their lineage while daughters will go away to other families. It appears sons compensate for the lack of social security in India.
- Only if the son light the funeral pyre can the parents ascend to heaven.
- Sons add to family wealth and property, whereas daughters will drain that in the form of dowry for marriage.
- Sons will protect the parents whereas daughters have to be protected.
Economic prosperity and growing awareness has not reduced Indians’ love for sons. Education to women has increased the number of sex-selective births. The kind of discrimination daughters will face in the family is a direct result of the sex of her older siblings. Girls with two or more elder brothers will be treated much better than a girl with an older sister.
Preference for boys has also resulted in girls being undernourished, not vaccinated, uneducated, subjected to child marriage, abuse, and a life with inferior rights. Preference for son is deeply inbred in Indian society and girls are looked upon as objects of liability to the family and society.
Even religious scriptures speak of value of sons born to a family. Manu Smriti, dated in the second century AD, which notes, “She is a true wife who has borne a son.” Another ancient text, the Atharva Veda, states, “The birth of a girl grant elsewhere, here grant a son.”
Although Hindu law officially provides daughters with equal access to property under the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, that law is easily superseded by several edicts of Hindu religious law. For example, a woman’s access to property is dependent on her father’s consent, whereas all Hindu sons have indisputable access to family property. Hindu law also notes that married women have absolutely no rights to reside on family property after marriage. In addition, whereas married daughters are considered to be part of their husband’s family and are not expected to monetarily support their own parents.
Sex selective abortions have added fuel to fire. Parents while going through abortions have been heard to say to the unborn girl,
‘We do not need you; send your brother.’
Advertisements like these are common –
It is better to pay 500 Rs. now than 50,000 Rs. later
(in dowry for the girl child at marriage)
It is difficult to ascertain statistics concerning female infanticide as this practice is carried out in remote areas and, it is assumed, never reported.
These trends are not only prevalent amongst Indians living in India but even those residing abroad.Countries like UK and USA which have significantly large population of Indians are showing skewed sex ratios. A new 2000 Census has revealed this new development since 1990 Census. US parents have been known to prefer daughters over sons. Here are some statistics:
Gender Requested by Adoptive Parents
70-90% Girls, 10-30% Boys
Gender of Children Awaiting Adoption in U.S. Foster Care
Same ratio reported for 1998, 2000, and 2001
48% Girls, 52% Boys
Gender of Children Adopted from U.S. Foster Care, 1971-2001
64% Girls, 36% Boys
Gender of All Adopted Children in the U.S. Under Age 18
According to Year 2000 U.S. Census
53% Girls, 47% Boys
The new trends in US population ”suggest that in a sub-population with a traditional son preference, the technologies are being used to generate male births when preceding births are female,” co-authors Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund said of their findings, appearing in edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The normal sex ratio at birth is 1.05 boys to 1 girl and that holds for first children of these families, the researchers found. But if the first baby is a girl, the odds of a boy coming next rise to 1.17-to-1, and after two sisters the likelihood of having a son jumps to 1.51-to-1.
About fifty million women are missing in Indian population due to feticide, infanticide, and dowry murders. Realizing the crisis Indian Government has now launched cradle scheme which is an attempt to stem the practice that has killed more than 10 million female fetuses in the last two decades, leading to an alarming imbalance in the ratio between males and females in India. Under the plan the Indian government will set up a series of orphanages to raise unwanted baby girls in a bid to halt the widespread practice of aborting female fetuses.
In addition the girl child would be provided an insurance cover of 100,000 rupees at birth and the rest of the incentives would come to a cash package of about 200,000 rupees.
What is the future of Indian society? Even if the imbalance is met will Indian women ever experience gender equality? The question remains unanswered.
PBS: Missing Girls of India