Monday, August 20, 2012

Why are girls being abandoned and battered ?

It's heartbreaking to read newspaper stories of girl children who have been battered to death by their parents or abandoned to die.

Thanks to the PNDT Act, everyone is aware about the skewed sex ratio in our country and the need to ban female feticide. However, even the word feticide itself is so highly emotionally charged that we sometimes forget that it has been used to frame the debate in such a way that it prevents us from clearly thinking about the issues involved objectively.

When we refer to sex selective abortions, we talk about female feticide. Then why don't we refer to all abortions as feticides ? All abortions involve killing the fetus , and not just the sex selective ones ! However, when the woman finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy, we give her the right to terminate this pregnancy because we respect her right to choose for herself. We believe that she has the freedom to choose what is right for herself, and our laws protect this freedom.  However, the word feticide is so highly emotionally charged , that we refuse to use this when we talk about medical abortions for unwanted pregnancies. This is why we all implicitly conspire to use double standards and refer to these pregnancy terminations using the much more neutral term , MTP or medical termination of pregnancy.  This is not something which is localized to India , and you see the same kind of debate in the US as well. Here , both the camps are equally strong , and while the antiabortion camp will talk about pro-life , the pro-abortion camp does not call themselves anti-life - they call themselves pro-choice !

It's all very well to talk about why society and the government need to lay down policies in order to protect the female fetus.  However, a truly enlightened policy would simply ensure that every child is a wanted child. If we can do this , then parents will naturally love and nurture their children because parental  love is one of the strongest biological urges humans have .

While we are tom-tomming our efforts to protect the female fetus in utero, what kind of protection are we offering these baby girls after birth ? Will we end up improving the sex ratio at birth – and then make the problem of neglected girls from 0 - 6 even worse ? The irony is that when Amartya Sen wrote his landmark paper about missing women 20 years ago, he was referring to the premature death of girls and women because of their neglect by their family and society – not to female feticide !

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