Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Claim: Female Foeticide Correlates with Wealth, Education

Via Quizman, an article in the Christian Science Monitor about India's female foeticide problem (also discussed by Uma, Neha Viswanathan, and Abhi, among many others).

Here is the CSM:

The practice is common among all religious groups - Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Muslims, and Christians - but appears to be most common among educated women, a fact that befuddles public health officials and women's rights activists alike.

"More educated women have more access to technology, they are more privileged, and most educated families have the least number of children," says Sabu George, a researcher with the Center for Women's Development Studies in New Delhi, who did not participate in the study. "This is not just India. Everywhere in the world, smaller families come at the expense of girls."

I don't see hard and fast evidence in this statement or elsewhere CSM article for the claim, but several sources in the article suggest a correlation between wealth and education, and higher incidences of female foeticide. It makes some sense: wealthier families can afford the multiple ultrasounds and the abortion procedure. And the strongest evidence for the claim comes from the fact that birth ratios tend to be the most skewed in relatively prosperous agricultural states like Haryana and Punjab.

It doesn't account for everything, of course -- boy/girl birth ratios in relatively prosperous states in South India are at or near normal levels (according to this map based on recent census information). So there definitely are some cultural factors at work, but it's not as simple as "Punjabis are more patriarchal."

Incidentally, the Indian Medical Association, though it has condemned female foeticide, is questioning Lancet's claim that 10,000,000 female foetuses have been aborted via sex-selection in the past 20 years, of which 5 million abortions are said to have taken place after the procedure was banned in 1994.

According to the BBC article, the IMA claims that since 2001 a crackdown on ultrasound equipment has led to a dramatic drop in female foeticide. But it will be another five years (the next census) before we have any reliable data on that, so there's almost no point in even discussing it at present. (Or not: are there other sources for sex-ratio statistics that might be used to sort this out?)


neha vish said...

My own guess is that banning doesn't work, and the IMA knows that. The crackdown on ultrasound equipment is a joke, and given that in about 12000 rupees you can get a homekit for gender determination (As early as the first week of pregnancy) and that as volumes go up, the prices will come down - the real issue is of attitude and what waits the girl child once (if she actually) manages to be born.

It's the first hurdle the girl crosses. One of so many.

Quizman said...


I saw an interesting news report on Indian tv some years back. A few doctors in Punjab stated that they should not be treated as criminals for revealing the gender of the child during a routine ultrasound check. Their defense was that it was far better for the mother to abort the child, than to have both the mother and girl-child be ill-treated after her birth. Apparently, this is the emotional case that pregnant women made to these doctors. So the docs would drop hints about the gender by using correct Hindi/Punjabi grammar. For example, "Theek se hil rahaa hai" vs "hil rahii hai."

Not that I'm defending their actions, but it is definitely a p.o.v. worth considering.

Ruchira Paul said...

Some of us women bloggers addressed this issue recently. It will be a long time before this mind set changes.

Please see Sugar & Spice and Everything Nice - Not Necessarily at Accidental Blogger.

Charu said...

Amardeep, I have been about this for a while now... I came across a (very credible) survey which said that the sex ratio in rural India is better (957 to 1000 males) than in urban (932 to 1000) - even with the explanation about better access to technology, this figure is quite revealing...
in fact, in one of the most affluent areas in India, South Delhi, the gender ratio is an appalling 762 to 1000 males. clearly this desire for a son (and worse, non-desire for a daughter) has more to do with cultural reasons than economic...
quizman, I had also read about another such "pointer" - since they cannot directly reveal the sex of the foetus, doctors say 'laddu khilao' if it is a boy and burfi if girl - apparently it is a widely understood code. ugh.

Charu said...

oops sorry, I have no idea why the entire comment is one long link... was not meant to be that way. sorry

Cute Indian Girl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shivam Vij said...

The IMA is obviously trying to hide skeletons. Mammon, not Durga, is god of the ultrasound clinics :)

Mihir said...

Prof. Amartya Sen has a good discussion of some aspects of this issue (the correlation of discrimination against the female child with healthcare, education and income indicators) in his book "The Argumentative Indian". If I remember correctly, he observes that the prosperous states in South India show a somewhat similar, if not as exaggerated, effect of prosperity on female foeticide.

Prassoon Suryadas said...

Here is a common man’s arm-chair research and analysis about this issue based on the available historical census data of India in comparison with two other countries China and USA.

Female Feticide – A Mysterious Propaganda