Times of India
80,000 women die during abortions every
year in India
Around 11 million abortions are carried
out in India every year and nearly 80,000 women
die during the process, according to an expert.
A majority of abortions are performed by
untrained hands and studies suggest that
nearly 80,000 women die due to unsafe abortions,
Dr Hema Divakar, Chairperson, Federation of Obsterics
and Gynecological Societies of India (FOGSI), Perinatology
Committee RPT Perinatology Committee.
Stressing the need to promote awareness about emergency
contraception methods, she said research shows that
78 per cent of pregnancies in India were unplanned,
of which 25 per cent are unwanted, leading to approximately
11 million abortions
Gendercide: the world wide war on
Ten million female foetuses
have been illegally aborted in India by mothers
desperate to bear a son. What will become of this
nation of ever fewer women? ANNE
you be the mother of a hundred sons - this is the
Sanskrit blessing given to a Hindu woman in India
on her wedding day. And the minute she falls pregnant,
there is the traditional chanting of mantras by
the other women of the family, calling for the foetus,
if female, to be transformed into a male.
Increasingly, such age-old beliefs are becoming
a curse in India, as, in this deeply patriarchal
society, women have become obsessed with giving
birth only to sons.
?Asking me why I need a son, instead of a daughter,
is like asking me why I have two eyes and not one,?
says one woman in the northern district of Haryana,
who has just had an abortion after discovering that
the baby she was carrying was female.
This woman is by no means alone in taking such shocking
and drastic measures to avoid giving birth to a
girl. In fact, such is the widespread determination
to produce only sons that, since ultrasound scans
became widely available in the Eighties, the number
of abortions carried out on female foetuses in India
has risen at a terrifying pace.
by the most conservative estimates, sex-selective
abortion in India now accounts for the termination
of some ten million female foetuses over the past
20 years. That means that each year a staggering
half a million girls have been prevented from being
?This is the world?s biggest genocide ever,? says
Chetan Sharma, founder of the Delhi-based organisation
Datamation, which campaigns against female foeticide.
According to India?s 2001 census, the number of
nought to six-year-old girls per 1,000 boys was
927, a dramatic dip from 962 in
?The future is frightening. Over the next five years
we could see more than a million foetuses eliminated
every year,? says Dr Sabu George, who has charted
the problem. ?At this pace we?ll soon have no girls
born in the country. We don?t know where it will
The female shortfall is not a new problem in India.
Even during the days of the Raj, and the first census
in 1881, the British made efforts to eradicate female
infanticide. But the problem of
female foeticide is a new phenomenon fuelled by
advances in technology and the widespread liberal
attitudes to abortion.
In 1971 India was one of the first countries to
legalise abortion, partly intended as a means of
?Today, anyone can walk into a government hospital
and ask for an immediate abortion up to the 20th
week of pregnancy, free, merely by saying there
has been a failure of contraception,? explains Kalpana
Sharma, whose columns in The Hindu newspaper regularly
rail against the dangers of undervaluing women.
Women cannot admit that they knew the sex of their
baby in advance of having an abortion because that
is illegal in India.
According to a law passed by the Indian
government in 1994, hospitals, clinics and laboratories
are not allowed to use prenatal diagnostic
techniques ? including ultrasound scans like those
pregnant women in the UK routinely undergo at 12
and 20 weeks ? for the purpose of determining the
sex of the foetus.
However, this law has been widely ignored
? because local officials are reluctant to fight
the will of the people.
Women know that if they produce only daughters,
they will be pitied by everyone around them ? or,
worse, abused. In many cases, it is even considered
a betrayal of the family.
want a son as we have a big business,? says another
woman who has undergone nine abortions of female
foetuses. ?I want what my husband has built from
scratch to go to his own blood.? But it is not just
that in Indian families it is the son who will carry
on the family name or business and take care of
Daughters are an enormous financial burden because
when they marry, a dowry must be found. Although
it is illegal both to give and receive a dowry,
the practice continues and the demands made by the
groom?s family are increasingly nothing short of
extortion, according to Kalpana Sharma. These days,
they often include jewellery, clothes, furniture,
white goods, cars and even a new home.
Lavish weddings in exotic locations and with mammoth
feasts are also expected, and the groom?s family
often makes last-minute demands. ?Raising a female
child is like watering your neighbour?s plant,?
says one woman in Gujarat.
For the boy?s family, it is gain, gain, gain. But
for the girl?s parents, financing the dowry and
wedding often involves selling off land and spiralling
into debt that becomes impossible to pay off.
Female foeticide isn?t common only among poor families.
Aborting a female foetus is increasingly becoming
a lifestyle choice among wealthy women.
The states with the lowest ratios of girls to boys
? 820 females to every 1,000 males ? are also the
most prosperous, like Punjab, Gujarat and Haryana.
It is not simply that affluent women believe they
will have a better standard of living if they have
It means, too, that there is more money to spend
on sport, leisure and consumer goods, as well as
more time to pursue a career. There is also the
issue of land inheritance. Daughters are now legally
entitled to an equal share of land when their parents
die and many families do not want to see their legacy
The division of land has become a major factor in
recent years because although sex-selective abortions
are still largely an urban phenomenon, the easy
availability of mobile scanning machines means doctors
are now doing brisk business in rural areas.
Getting a licence for the equipment is easy and
many so-called ?doctors? offer women the service
without being qualified or registered.
There are 25,770 officially registered pre-natal
units in India, but one doctor estimates there are
as many as 70,000 ultrasound machines operating
in the country. Nobody reports the unqualified technicians
because it is not in their interest to do so.
Even the qualified doctors in registered clinics
have ways of circumventing the law against using
ultrasound tests to determine the sex of the foetus.
If the ultrasound test shows a male foetus in the
womb the doctor simply tells the nurse: ?I think
this calls for sweets,? a well-known code to mean
?Good news, it?s a boy?. No paperwork is filled
in, so there is no evidence of illegal practices.
Anyone found guilty of organising an illegal abortion
theoretically faces a prison sentence of between
three and five years and a fine of 10,000 rupees
(£118). But only two men have been convicted
since the law was introduced 12 years ago.
So why do such highly-trained doctors show such
a disregard for the ethics of sex selection? Some
doctors insist they are performing a valuable service
by preventing divorces.
Others claim that the doctors? union has been over-zealous
in protecting its own, and that the doctors and
lawyers have formed a powerful nexus in the fight
against official clampdowns ? to their mutual financial
The practice is hugely lucrative for doctors. Private
doctors charge a minimum of 5,000 rupees (£60)
for an abortion and often much more, depending on
how far into the pregnancy the woman is. Dr Puneet
Bedi, a specialist in fetal medicine, says: ?Everybody
knows that this technological wonder [ultrasound]
is being used at random, to diagnose and kill girls.
Foeticide is performed by trained professionals
with licences and registration numbers; it is a
multi-billion rupee industry.?
Many social workers in India believe it is unfair
to accuse women of being complicit in this genocide,
a denial of the girl?s fundamental human right of
being allowed to be born. A few believe they are
acting out of kindness: ?Why bring a girl into the
world who will be subjected to a dreadful life of
misery?? one told me.
There are many stories, even in relatively prosperous
families, of young girls being undernourished while
boys are well-fed, or girls being treated as maids
while the sons lead a life of leisure.
But more often than not, an abortion to terminate
the development of a female foetus is an action
forced on a woman by the twin pressures of a powerful
mother-in-law and husband. A key reason for the
woman?s compliance is the fear that they may be
replaced by a younger, more fertile woman who will
produce sons if they do not submit.
Alarmingly, this fear has spread to Indian women
in the UK who face the same patriarchal attitudes.
An increasing number are travelling to India for
an abortion, as far fewer questions are asked there
than in Britain.
?There is definitely an increase in abuse faced
by Asian women in the UK who are mothers of girls,?
said Jasvinder Sanghera, who runs an advice centre
in Derby. ?We see women who are beaten or abused
by their husband and especially their mother-in-law
for producing daughters. They are not considered
worthy or dutiful daughters-in-law.?
Tragically, there are already disturbing consequences
of the falling ratio of females to males in India.
In Gujarat, and some villages in Punjab, there are
so few higher caste women that tribal women are
being imported to service whole families of men
? father, sons and brothers. The demand for sexual
services is such that in some areas middlemen have
started supplying girls for between 500 rupees (£6)
and 60,000 rupees (£711) a month. The money
goes to the husband or father who hires her out.
worries are not simply the fear that such an imbalance
will result in the rise of prostitution and sex
trafficking. The danger to women?s emotional and
physical health from repeated abortions is huge.
Sex-selective abortions are often performed later
in the pregnancy and are therefore more dangerous.
Only 20 per cent of all abortions conform to the
provisions of Indian law and those performed outside
hospital often result in complications that lead
to the deaths of thousands of woman.
So how can this demographic catastrophe be averted?
The Indian government is taking steps to impose
regulations on the registered ultrasound clinics
throughout the country, but Chetan Sharma, of Datamation,
says that local officials are guilty of corruption
and will simply continue to turn a blind eye.
Feminists believe that until Indian society begins
to value women, no amount of laws will help.
?Until women take control of their own lives and
refuse to give in to pressure, nothing will change,?
says Rasil Basu, who has made a film about the crisis
called Vanishing Daughters. ?Empowerment of women
is the only answer.?
Kalpana Sharma, of The Hindu newspaper, believes
the beginnings of change have been prompted by recent
revelations that girls are consistently doing better
than their male counterparts at school and college
and are beginning to branch into traditionally male
fields like engineering and medicine.
?I know women who have been persuaded to have multiple
abortions and who feel absolutely rotten, but they
have no choice ? either abortion or divorce,? says
?But I sense things are changing with a younger
generation of very well-educated women who are not
prepared to put up with this. Women are starting
to find their courage, even if it means leaving