India, like some other countries in Asia, such as China, is infamous for its distorted sex ratio, with there being many more baby boys born in the country than girls. According to the latest census from 2011, there are 914 girls for 1,000 boys, representing a drop from the 2001 ratio of 927:1000. This was despite a strict ban on sex tests on fetuses, aimed at preventing sex-selective abortions. Despite the social pressures in some Indian states for families to have more boys than girls, the low proportion is also having major destabilizing effects on society as an increasingly large number of young men remain single.
India is now considering changing strategies on how to deal with the problem of female infanticide or abortion, which despite remaining illegal, is prevalent, especially in northern Indian states. For the last two decades, India had even banned tests to determine the sex of fetuses. However, recently, Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi stated that the law could be flipped entirely, with testing for the sex of a fetus becoming mandatory. On Monday, outlining the reasons for this proposed change, Gandhi said:
A proposal is under discussion in the Cabinet to evolve a system that can easily track attempts at female feticide (by parents) instead of punishing the fraternity involved in the medical processes. Those registering the sex of the fetus will have to produce a medical certificate or cite the reason for termination of pregnancy.This will ensure institutional deliveries and virtually abolish the practice of home deliveries in certain areas of the country. Home deliveries pose a threat to a newborn as there might be an attempt on its life…
It is obvious that the previous strategy for ending gender-specific abortions and infanticides has not worked very well and that the new strategy may at least allow the government to track births by gender. At the very least, there would be no harm in trying an alternative strategy. Unfortunately, like almost every other proposal by an Indian government, Gandhi’s proposal met with a howl of outcry and controversy from opposition activists, forcing Gandhi to declare on Tuesday that she was merely expressing a point of view and starting a debate. Nonetheless, it is obvious that the current ban isn’t working and that India needs to have such a debate on how to prevent gender-specific infanticide.
As is the case in China, it is obvious that there is a limit to the extent that the law can halt widely prevalent social practices. Instead, the onus should be on improving the education system and the media to spread norms and ideas that will convince families of the equal value of boys and girls and make it socially unacceptable to target female infants.