Does India need stronger laws to end female feticide ?

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Does India need stronger laws to end female foeticide?

Partha Sadhukhan


Before we indulge in legal perspective of the issue, let’s try to understand how female foeticide is projected. Even though dictionary definition of foeticide means killing a foetus in the womb, while showing female foeticide the dwindling sex ratio between 0-6 yrs children is shown as evidence.

To understand this issue better we need to check the census data in a different manner by comparing 2001 data of 0-6 year old children and compare with that of children between 10-16 years from 2011 census and we find this –

Upon further this analysis for other age groups we find this –

If we understand that the population numbers of same group (e.g. 0-10 years in 2001 census and 10-20 years in 2011 census) cannot increase but can only decrease we find there is some issue with that number for first two groups. It can also be noted that the difference reduces (natural due to death) in 2011 census for all other age groups.

Our understanding of this issue will not be complete unless we investigate into the reasons of this decreased gender ratio. According to 2014 UNICEF report on India’s infant and child mortality female children die more compared to that of male fetus –

UNICEF, in this report has categorized the reasons in the following ways –

Socio-Economic Characteristics—

  • Urban     / Rural residence
  • Mother’s education
  • Social group
  • Standard of living index
  • Effect of group of state

Maternal and Demographic characteristics

  • Mother’s age at childbirth
  • Birth order
  • Preceding birth interval
  • Succeeding birth interval
  • Child’s     sex
  • Assessment of high risk birth
  • Maternal nutrition status and birth weight
  • Assistance at childbirth

Environmental factors

  • Access     to safe drinking water
  • Access     to improved toilets
  • Use of clean cooking fuel

Inequalities in child survival

  1. Health     inequality

As we understand from above factors that low sex ratio does not mean deliberate killing of fetus always. It has a plethora of reasons for that.

There is one more factor that contribute to low sex ratio without killing any fetus. It is called the son preference.

Since in India it is believed that a son will give us moksha after our death, parents prefer to have sons. Also sons are entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of their parents in old age. Even though legally daughters are also responsible today, but since they get married off still today sons have this unspoken responsibility of taking care of their parents. So when a couple has first child as a baby boy they do not try for another but in most likelihood they would try for another child if the first child is a girl. If we look at these two instances together we understand that the gender ratio can be skewed even without any female feticide.

There are medical studies that confirm that probability of giving birth to a male baby in first pregnancy is statistically higher compared to that of having a female child.

We also need to understand that natural sex ratio at birth is 105:100 (Male:Female) per UNDP HDR (2013 HDR states that “The natural sex ratio at birth is commonly assumed and empirically confirmed to be 105 male births to 100 female births”; Population Trends, Table 14, Page 197)

So we understand that even though the gender ratio is skewed against females there need not be any killing of fetus involved in the same.

Now that we understand female feticide in totality and the different factors contributing to the so called myth we find hardly any reason to strengthen the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971. This law may be amended suitably per the recent medical advancements but making the provisions harsher against a poorly conceived reason will only be detrimental to the society.