Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 27 May 2023

Core issues to tackle female foeticide

Source: By AparnaKohli: The Statesman

Issues relating to girls and women should be integral to a country’s development agenda. In fact, the status of women in society is an indicator of a country’s level of civilization. In India, the practice of female foeticide is an issue that has existed since time immemorial.

While several government agencies including the Ministry of Women & Child Development have time and again drawn attention to this concern, it continues to exist. One of the visible indicators of this sex selective elimination is the sex ratio at birth (SRB) for children born in the last five years or the females per-one-thousand-males.

Latest data from the National Family Health Survey’s fifth round (NFHS-5) reveal a worsening trend in this statistic in several states. For example, comparing SRB numbers from NFHS-4 (2015- 2016) to NFHS-5 (2019-2020) evidences a decline in several states including Odisha: 932 to 894, Bihar: 934 to 908, Kerala: 1047 to 951, Chhattisgarh: 977 to 960, and Jharkhand: 919 to 899. In fact, such gender discrimination is not limited to the womb; it extends to the outside world where the just-born girl is often met with half-hearted happiness – across socio-economic levels.

This unjust attitude towards one half of the human species is an indicator of a negative perception attached to the girl child. Responsible sections of society as well as multiple governments have run programmes to address this problem (like financial incentives under Ladli Scheme for poor families starting 2005). However, these efforts have not reaped adequate results. This calls for a reanalysis of the problem by policymakers,a deeper look at the associated factors. Is female foeticide the correct diagnosis or is it just a symptom of more deeply rooted problems?

Consider the following. Female foeticide implies (“illegal”) killing of the female human child at the foetal stage by its parent or with the consent of the parent. Throughout the animal kingdom the basic instinct of a ‘parent’ is to protect offspring; it is the natural instinct of a ‘parent’ to sustain its life against all odds, against all threats, often at their own cost.

Then why is man – the most evolved animal – going against this natural instinct? What are the forces strong enough to cause this aberration? That indeed would be the root cause of female foeticide, and a key to its solution. Step into lanes of villages for explicit signs and into city lanes for more implicit ones and two serious problems will glare at you – security of girls/women and the dowry system.

Women security includes instances of eve-teasing and harassment at public places, stalking, and other crimes. Dowry system on the other hand is unique to Indian society and its marriage tradition wherein demands for durable goods, property or cash may be made from the bride’s family by the bridegroom’s family. These problems, both related to the female members of a family, can gain considerable dimensions. They have the potential to drain an individual, financially and emotionally. It often is a lever for repeated harassment and insecurity. What safeguards has the government put for these very real, very ubiquitous problems?

At least ‘nothing’ sufficiently, effective for the ‘common man’ who does not wield any form of power in our society. There is absolutely no support at these points of personal adversity. The man is left to his fate. It is this agony, insecurity and injustice which people have suffered over generations.

It would have certainly caused a mutation in our genes – as a community we have developed an apprehension towards the newborn female, an anti-girl child sensitization. With greater empathy, with greater understanding, a relook at the act of female foeticide makes it appear not an act of heartlessness, but an act of helplessness.

Based on this premise, the government is called on to take a different perspective on female foeticide – see it as the result of a chain reaction set off by other societal problems. Once these problems are addressed suitably, it is highly probable that the issue of female foeticide would be dealt with in a more effective manner.

A Modi government initiative that targets female foeticide is the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) Scheme. Its key elements include stricter monitoring of gender determination tools, nationwide awareness campaigns on foeticide; and financial assistance to encourage girl child education.

While it is a well-meaning programme, its effectiveness on the success indicators – like SRB in districts, girls’ enrolment (and re-enrolment of dropouts) in schools – is a question mark. Similarly, another government initiative (under the BBBP scheme): ‘Udaan – Sapneye Di Duniya De Rubaru (Udaan – live your dream for one day) scheme’ provides opportunities to selected girls to spend a day with the professional they aspire to be. For a girl in a village or a small town whose security is at risk, any amount of motivation generation or sermons to families on the importance of female education is not likely to work.

In order for these initiatives to be truly successful in their mission, the government efforts and funds should be channelized to treat the real issues lurking underneath. Address issues of girl/women safety and automatically female education will get a boost, and more women will be mobilized into the workforce.

Address issues of the dowry system and automatically the burden attached to a girl child will disappear. It is proposed that the BBBP Scheme be re-explained, beti bachao: assure girl safety after birth, stop dowry system at marriage; beti padhao: girl education/enrolment will skyrocket; and female foeticide shall see a major drop.

To conclude, women’s security and dowry system are serious issues of our people, and strong predictors of female foeticide and also low levels of female education in India. These social factors must be duly recognised by the political machinery.

Tackling such factors of women empowerment along the life-cycle continuum shall also enhance India’s economic growth. We Indians – men and women – must vow to support any government initiative that targets these issues. It will optimize the social health of our country, will greatly enhance the productivity of its human resource, and ultimately the peace and economic progress of its people.