A young mother who was disowned and attacked by her husband and parents-in-law after she gave birth to a girl in eastern India reflects the country’s culture of “son preference,” which has led to a very high number of sex-selective abortions and a severe sex ratio imbalance.
Bhavana (not her real name), a mother from Dhanbad district of Jharkhand state, was disowned and violently attacked by her husband and parents-in-law after giving birth to a girl rather than a boy in May 2020, about three years after their marriage, according to Alliance Defending Freedom India, a faith-based legal advocacy organization.
Anushree Barnard, ADF India spokesperson for the Vanishing Girls campaign which has supported the mother, says throughout childhood and into adulthood, girls and women in India and many other parts of South Asia face “extreme and even fatal discrimination.”
The widespread practice of sex-selective abortions “threatens the lives of millions and has resulted in a severe sex ratio imbalance throughout the country,” the campaign says.
The Registrar General of India released data in 2018 which showed a ratio of 844 girls born per every 1,000 boys in India’s capital city of Delhi.
The British medical journal The Lancet published a research paper in April showing an overall 60% increase in cases of “vanishing girls” in the most recent decade compared to previous decades.
Pre-natal selection of children based on sex, ADF India says, has been linked to increased violence against women and growing demand for human trafficking.
The human rights group ADF International has called upon the U.N. and the wider international community to formally recognize sex-selection practices as acts of femicide, and therefore commit to their prohibition and prevention under international law.
“The fight against femicide should not end until every girl, born or unborn, enjoys her right to a future,” said Giorgio Mazzoli, U.N. legal officer for ADF International in Geneva.
“Countless girls in India and across the globe continue to fall victim to fatal violence and discrimination before they even have the chance to be born. Both internationally and domestically, there are binding protections in place for each girl child to enjoy a right to life, free from violence.”
Those who believe that “women and girls have the same value and worth as men and boys cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening today,” Mazzoli added.
According to the latest government of India Census of 2011, there were 828 girls per 1,000 boys in the age of 0 to 6 years in the Sikh community. Among the Jains, there were 889 girls per 1,000 boys in the same age group. India’s national child sex ratio was 918 girls per 1,000 boys, according to the DNA newspaper.
However, there were 958 Christian girls per 1,000 boys, 913 Hindu girls per 1,000 boys, 943 Muslim girls per 1,000 boys, and 933 Buddhist girls per 1,000 boys.
Swati Narayan from Tata Institute of Social Sciences argues that scriptures of Abrahamic religions explicitly forbid female infanticide, but faiths that have originated in the Indian subcontinent do not. This, she says in a previous article, is reflected in the “normal” child sex ratios among Christians and Muslims but much lower among Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.