> The Issue And What We Can Do
The Issue And What We Can Do
The child sex ratio is a powerful indicator of social health of any
society. Calculated as number of girls per 1000 boys in the 0-6 years
age group, the ratio has shown a sharp decline from 976 girls to 1000
boys in 1961 to 927 as per the 2001 census. In certain parts of the
country, there are less than 800 girls for every 1000 boys.
The declining child sex ratio has its
roots in the practice of sex selection or
what is commonly understood as
determining the sex of the unborn
child or foetus and eliminating it if
found to be a female. Sex selection has
seen many faces and forms: from
female infanticide to female foeticide
and the technologically sophisticated
pre-conceptional sex selection. The
use of technology to determine the
sex of the foetus and easy access to it
since the early eighties has
contributed to the rapid decline in the
child sex ratio.
Where is it Happening?
We see this practice prevalent right across the country. It is not
limited to certain parts or regions though there are regional
variations. According to the 2001 census, this ratio has declined to
less than 900 girls per 1000 boys in States such as Punjab, Haryana,
Delhi and Gujarat.
Is it limited to the less Prosperous or Backward Regions?
No, this is a myth. The ratio stands at a mere 754 in Fatehgarh Sahib district of Punjab - there are only 754 girls for every 1000 boys. Kurukshetra district of Haryana has 770, Ahmedabad 814, and South West district of Delhi 845 - even though these regions are amongst the most prosperous in the country. Mumbai too is down to 898.
What is the impact of sex selection?
The adverse child sex ratio can severely impact the delicate
equilibrium of nature and destroy our moral and social fabric.
Contrary to what many believe, lesser number of girls in a society will
not enhance their status. Instead, this could lead to increased
violence against women, rape, abduction, trafficking and onset of
practices such as polyandry. In
certain parts of the country, women
are being 'bought' as brides too
Sex Selection or what is commonly understood as determing the sex of unborn child or foetus and eliminating it if found to be a female. The use of the technology to determine the sex of the foetus and easy access to it since the early eighties has contributed to the rapid decline in the child sex ratio.
What about the law?
The Pre-conception and Pre-natal
Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of
Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act)
provides for the prohibition of sex
selection, before or after conception.
Its purpose is to prevent misuse of
technologies such as ultrasound that
enable testing the sex of a child before
it is born. It is illegal to test the sex of
the foetus for the purpose of
eliminating the female. The law
provides for an imprisonment, which
may extend to three years and fine up to Rs. 10,000 for the first
conviction. The law has its own place but has been hampered by difficulties in
implementation and societal apathy.
The Root Cause
Sex selection is not only about technology. At the heart of the matter
is the low status of women in society and the deep-rooted prejudices
they face right through their life. To get the complete picture, the
issue also needs to be seen in the context of a patriarchal social
framework and a value system based on 'son preference' - such as
the son being responsible for the carrying forward the family name,
support in old-age and for performing the last rites. Further, the practice of dowry and the tag of 'praya dhan' translate into daughters being considered an economic liability.
Consequently, what we see is discrimination and neglect of the girl
child, which could be in terms of inadequate nutrition, denial or limited
access to education and health, child labour and domestic violence. At
its worst, it translates into one of the most repugnant form of violence
against women: sex selection.
Portraying The Issue: The Creative Route
We see sex selection
happening around us, yet we
choose to remain silent. Just
as we do when it comes to
dowry, age at marriage and
neglect of the girl child. Given
the socio-cultural context
and the deep-rooted
prejudices outlined in the
foregoing para, what is
needed is a change in the
collective consciousness. A
change, which stirs our
conscience into action. It has
been argued that there is no
better route for this than the
field of arts, be it music, a 'nukkad natak', a verse, a 'ghazal', a
painting or a film.
Why take this creative route? We believe that our efforts to create a
mind-set change often fall short of the expectations because the
importance of the human factor is ignored-the complex web of
relationships and beliefs, values and motivations, which lie at the
very heart of art and culture. The process of sensitizing through the
medium of visual and performing arts will have a lasting impact, as it
is not a mechanical process. The message comes from the heart and
speaks the language of the soul.
Some Pointers For Artistes
Without impinging on artists right to creative freedom, a few
pointers that could be taken into consideration while portraying the
issue of sex selection are listed below :
Some Basic Facts :
- The child sex ratio (0-6
years) that stood at 976
girls to 1000 boys in 1961
has declined to 927 girls to
1000 boys in 2001. The
most dramatic decline has
come in the decade 1991-
2001, from 945 down to
- In certain parts of the
country, there are less than
8 girls for every 10 boys.
- Prosperity is no guarantee
and sex selection is
happening across India,
especially in some of the
most prosperous parts of
the country such as Punjab,
Haryana and Delhi.
- Sex selection adversely
impacts the delicate equilibrium of nature and destroys our moral
and social fabric.
Sex Selection And Abortion :
In India, abortion is legal under certain conditions. However,
abortion for the reason of sex selection is not. Accurate portrayal
of this fact, and not implying that abortion per se is illegal, is
important. Otherwise it could limit a women's rightful access to
safe and legal abortion services.
Myths And Misconceptions
- Contrary to what many believe, lesser number of girls in a society
will not enhance their status. Instead, in places where sex selection
is rampant, there can be an increase in violence against women,
rape, abduction, trafficking and onset of practices such as
- The notion that only couples with
two or more daughters are going in
for sex selection and therefore does
not affect the overall child sex ratio
is misleading. In fact, data indicates
that even for the first-born, there is a
preference for a male child. This
trend is even more noticeable where
the first-born is a girl. "Sex selection
is not a solution to dowry - the
system of dowry will continue as
long as people look upon daughters
as a liability. What is important is to
address the root cause for the
subordinate status of women in the
- The thought that it is more humane to eliminate a female foetus
than subjugate her to a life of discrimination is a fallacy. By the
same logic, it would be justifiable to eliminate poor people than let
them suffer a life of poverty and deprivation. The girl child is not
the problem, the practice of sex selection is.
- Another misleading notion is that banning sex selection
amounts to denying a mother her unalienable right to choose the
sex of her child. Choice in the absence of autonomy is no choice.
Fears of violence and rejection/desertion and also the desire to
establish one's value in the family often pressurise women into
opting for sex selection.
- The argument that sex selection is an effective tool for controlling
population is misplaced. We want population stabilization for
improving quality of life. This is the ultimate goal. If along the way we resort to things that damage our quality of life, is
Issues To Be Highlighted In The Creative Expression
- Here and now issue
It is vital that the seriousness of the issue is brought out. It is not
something out there in the future. It
is a 'here and now' issue and there
has to be a sense of urgency in the
creative expression. It would,
therefore, be important to create
an imagery of the issue that
- Tradition and technology nexus
Sex selection is a reflection of the
low status of women in the society
and a patriarchal mindset steeped
in son preference. Easy access to
technology has made the situation
far worse. The need of the hour is to
break through both. "
The thought that it is more
humane to eliminate a female
foetus than subjugate her to a life
of discrimination is a fallacy. By
the same logic, it would be
justifiable to eliminate poor
people than let them suffer a life
of poverty and deprivation. The
girl child is not the problem, the
practice of sex selection is.
- It contributes to violence
Sex selection is probably the worst form of gender-based violence
- it results in selective elimination of the female foetus.
- Equality is the mantra
Focus on the equality mantra - bring out how neglect and
discrimination leads to an unequal status for the girl child.
- Value the girl child
Encourage equal value of the girl child and imply that she is not a
- Equal access to opportunity and resources
Highlight efforts that are at the heart of the problem-equal access
to education, health, employment and productive resources of
land and property.
- Mindset change
Law alone will not work; what is needed is a mindset change.
Depict how 'each one of us counts'.
Segmenting The Audience
- It will be important to keep in mind the target audience while
selecting the medium, the message and the approach to follow. A
literate, urban audience would need
the message packaged differently
as against a rural, semi-literate one.
The channels too may be different.
The age group will matter, as will
the context and the environment in
which the message is being
delivered. " It may be useful to
remember that that sex selection is
happening more in urban,
prosperous and literate India.
- Audience segmentation also needs
to take into account the role played
by different family members. This
will help in appropriately nuancing
the message. A message to a
mother-in-law will be different from the one addressed to a
- There are broadly two tracks that can be used to bring out the
message - fear and guilt vs. rights/equality platform. Essentially,
the latter approach focuses on love, care, warmth and other
positive emotions such as pride. Each has its pros and cons.
- Fear and guilt is a double-edged sword. While it could make
somebody take momentary notice, its use beyond a point could
lead to a total 'switch-off' and drive the target audience into an
'avoidance' mode. What might be useful is striking an emotional
chord in the target audience and moving them to an action stage.
Segmenting The Audience
Possible buttons to push are of love, warmth and caring for girl
child - using these expressions for a daughter and a sister could be
more effective. This makes the issue a more personal one as it tugs
at the heart.
- Avoid a patronizing/preaching approach. For instance, 'We pledge
to protect her' has a patronizing overtone as does 'Let her live...'
and 'ladki hona dosh nahin, jurm
nahin, paap nahin, usen khilne de.'
- Avoid use of language that portrays
girls as objects of pity and devalues
them. Some of the communication
says, 'Give girls a chance, they too
can look after you' or 'mujhe maa ke
garbh me kyon marte ho, kewal is
liya ki main ladki hoon?' Therefore,
avoid language that reinforces such
- Similarly avoid use of cliches such
as 'daughters as laxmi' or 'beti bojh
nahin lathi hai.'
- Refrain from using words such as
foeticide, killing, murder, and genocide as this focuses attention on
negative emotions of fear and violence thereby turning the audience
away from the issue at hand.
- It is best to avoid using the term 'sex selective abortion' as it
confuses the issue by linking it to legal and safe abortion per se.
- Avoid language that holds the mother responsible for sex
selection. She has very little control over the decision.
- Use language, which is simple, direct and appeals to the heart.
This village is full of bachelors. There are
houses where only one of many brother is
married. In this case, 4 brothers stay together,
but only one of them is married. Bunta Singh
managed to get married only 8 months back.
His wife, Ramni is 1 month pregnant now. The
elder and younger brother did not get married
because men with smaller land holdings find it
difficult to marry these days.
Ramni's mother is dead and her father got
remarried to a Bengali woman. He wanted to
get Ramni married off even though he knew
she would land up in a situation of polyandry.
- Avoid imagery that is gruesome or gory for instance foetus in a bottle or
a dagger piercing a rosebud for the reason that a violent image will
have the audience go into a switch-off mode.
- Avoid imagery that reinforces gender inequality as in the case of
some of the popular family based TV serials. Some of them
continue to portray women as inferior and men in haloed terms.
- Respect the female form. A grotesque or provocative portrayal of
female anatomy while discussing sex selection could take the
issue in a different direction. It also distracts from the message
Some Real Life Instances
Rohtak District, Haryana.
An old woman in a well-to-do house
breaks her Navratra fast. Even as
Goddess Laxmi looks on ironically
from a painting on the wall, the
woman ritually washes the feet not of
a Kanjak Devi (girl-goddess) but of a
young boy, as pre-puberty girls are
hard to find...
Devra Village, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
Three days of feasting mark the
wedding of Jaswant Kanwar, the first
girl among the Bhatti Rajputs to have
survived to a marriageable age.
Neighbouring families join in the celebrities, as the village receives a
baraat after a gap of 110 years...
Dang District, Gujarat-Rajasthan border.
With the rise of a full moon, a young woman named Swarup
performs a ritual fast on Karva Chauth. She prays for the long lives of
eight brothers, all of whom she is married to...
Similarly avoid use of cliches such as 'daughters as laxmi' or 'beti
bojh nahin lathi hai.'
What You Can Do
- How can you help? Be a change maker to transform the existing
landscape of your society. Start by raising your concern on this
issue in various public fora, write letters to the editor, be a part of
the Resident Welfare Association, form a club with like-minded
people, raise the issue at an existing clubs, at your workplace,
religious and social gatherings,
speak to your family members
including your children and
relatives, and in political and
professional arenas to collectively
generate public opinion on this
critical issue of sex selection. The
choices and options are limitless.
Only then can societal apathy ends.
Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the
change you want to see".
- Adopt a zero tolerance for sex
selection. If you know of anyone
indulging in it, report to appropriate
authorities. Your vigilance will help
save many lives and send out a
strong message to those who err.
Rita is 17 years old. She was brought
from a village near the Bihar-Bengal
border. Rita lost her mother and was
brought up by her grandparents who
sold her to an agent (who brought her to
Haryana). Rita has been back to her
village to get brides for other boys in her
husband's family. Her husband is eldest
of four brothers and he is putting
pressure on her to get very young girls
for his younger brothers.
- Value your daughter. Each one of us can change our immediate
environment by treating our daughters equal to our sons. If each of
us looks at the girl child with a changed mindset it will break the
prevailing social apathy.
- Changing mindsets includes the attitudes and thinking processes
for both girls and boys. Girls need, and should expect, equal access
to education, nutrition, health, employment and productive
resources. Boys and men should perceive girls not as subservient
beings but as empowered individuals who are equal partners.