Study: 10M Fewer Girls Born in India

The Associated Press
Monday, December 18, 2006; 1:44 PM

NEW DELHI -- Lawmakers and women's rights activists raised an alarm Monday over new evidence indicating about 7,000 fewer girls than expected are born each day in India, where women routinely suffer discrimination and parents often abort female fetuses.

The spread of ultrasound technology allowing parents to find out the gender of their unborn children has resulted in the large-scale "disappearance" of girls here. One study released earlier this year estimated that 10 million fewer girls were born here than expected in the past 20 years.

The government must "rise in revolt against the male child mania," said lawmaker Gurudas Dasgupta during a parliamentary debate Monday.

The debate was spurred in part by a report last week from UNICEF, which estimated that 7,000 girls go unborn each day in India, where abortions are legal and a ban on finding out the sex of unborn children and aborting female fetuses is widely flouted.

The result is a skewed gender ratio _ many districts in the country of more than 1 billion people routinely report only 800 females born for every 1,000 males.

According to the latest census figures in India, the number of girls per 1,000 boys declined from 945 to 927 between 1991 and 2001.

In China, where there is a similar preference for male offspring, official figures show 117 boys are born in China for every 100 girls, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

China bans the use of ultrasound or other means to determine the sex of a fetus, but doctors who do so usually face only administrative penalties, not criminal charges. The situation in India is driving activists to demand the government declare a "national emergency" and take tough measures to enforce existing laws.

"It is truly a state of emergency and the government has to act," said women's rights activist Ranjana Kumari.

UNICEF's report included dire warnings about the social fallout from the skewed gender ratio _ girls getting married at younger ages, dropping out of school and dying earlier after being forced bear children when they are too young. It could also result in more violence against girls and women, UNICEF said.

The government says it is clamping down on doctors who tell parents the sex of their unborn children and abort female fetuses. But in more than a decade, only one such doctor has been convicted, and some senior officials acknowledge tougher action is needed.

"Female feticide should be treated as a crime and not just a social evil, therefore stringent punishment and punitive action is required," said Renuka Choudhury, India's women and child development minister.

Indian families traditionally have preferred boys, partly because of the widespread Hindu religious belief that only a son could perform the last rites when his father dies. In addition, girls are seen as a burden on the family, requiring a huge dowry that many families cannot afford. They are generally the last to be educated or get medical treatment when ill.

Choudhury said the government was planning to offer incentives to village councils that worked to change such discriminatory attitudes.

But as India's ponderous bureaucracy cranks up for a nationwide awareness campaign, non-governmental organizations, student groups and civil society organizations have already taken up the task to publicly explain the urgency of the issue.

In recent weeks, hundreds of students, both men and women, have held demonstrations and candlelight vigils in many cities to create awareness.

"It's a message we hope to take to the people _ invest in girls, realize their value, help them realize their potential, let them live," Kumari said.

© 2006 The Associated Press