The Unheard Cry of A Girl Child
“It is as natural to die as to be born; and to a little infant, perhaps, the one is as painful as the other.”
– By Francis Bacon
What is Infanticide?
An infanticide is an unlawful act of deliberately killing a newborn child within one year of birth. It is an act that goes directly against the “Right to Life” of a child. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights talks about Right to Life, which states that everyone has the Right to life, liberty from birth and this right shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his Right to Life.
Female infanticide refers to the intentional killing of newborn female children. It is also described as ‘gendercide’ or gender-selective killing. Many words like ‘gynocide’ and ‘femicide’ are used to relate to the killing of females.
Female infanticide is a major concern in different nations like India, Pakistan and China. In India, mainly in northwestern parts like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana, the cases of female infanticide are prominent since 1780. The females are always given a different status in the society because our society focuses more on being a patriarchal society than matriarchal, and this creates a bias towards the women. The practice is more because in some cultures, males are considered to be more valuable than females, and the killing of female children are mainly cultural rather than religious.
Sex Ratio Affected
Sex Ratio indicates the proportion of males to females in a certain population, whereas, in India, the sex ratio is calculated as the number of females per 1000 males. A girl child is considered to be a liability by early societies, and even today, also many people have the same mindset regarding female children. Many parents consider it better to invest in a son than in a daughter.
Female infanticide causes an imbalance in the society among the number of males and females. The Socio-Cultural perspective relates to gender differences on a household level, whereas the demographic perspective focuses more on gender differences in the desired family composition.
According to a report by the Indian government in 2018, around 63 million women are missing in India. With a decline in sex ratio, the number is going to increase more in the near future. Thus, Indian sex ratio can be characterized as adverse and a declining one, which favours male more than female. There is an immediate requirement for strict regulations to keep a check on such traditions, which is carried out in many parts of India.
Origins of Infanticide
In most cases, infanticide occurs as a way of restricting poverty and population. To control poor standards of living and starvation caused by overpopulation, throughout history, infanticide has been considered as an effective and productive way.
The Hindu authorities condemn the killing of newborn children.
For Hindu culture, son preference is entirely based on the concept that men are better providers, and according to some beliefs, sons are required to fulfil the performance of their closed ones’ funeral rites. If we look at Hindu culture, there has been a patriarchal bias against women from a long period.
Islam has always condemned the killing of a newborn child. The Qur’an had some beautiful line inscribed on the killing of children.
“You should not kill your children for fear of want. We will provide for them and for you. To kill them is a grievous Sin”.
– Saurah 17 verse 31
In pre-Islamic Arabia, female infanticide was considered to be common. However, after the revelation of Qur’an and by the time of Muhammad, female infanticide was completely forbidden among Islamic culture, and it was regarded as equal to the murder of an adult.
Confucianism is a system of thought & behaviour that originated in ancient China. It regarded male children to be more desirable as the male child provides security for their parents & looks after them at old age and also performs the ancestral funeral rites.
This male bias is still present in some parts of China, where people follow Confucianism and the parents want their first child to be a boy.
The Sikh community has always condemned infanticide. Sikh is considered to be one of the most gender-neutral religions, and male and female are considered to be equal in the Sikh community. But it was surprising to see that the census in India revealed that there is a tremendous difference in the sex ratio of male and female among Sikhs. Sikh religious organisations Akal Takht has been looking into the matter and also has banned neonatal sex identification, selective abortion and killing of young female babies. The community has re-emphasised that women are equal to men.
Christianity & Judaism
Both Christianity & Judaism have always condemned infanticide.
The girl as a burden
The notion of a dowry system created a belief among the parents that daughters need to be protected, and sufficient financial resources have to be gathered to support the marriage of a girl child. In contrast, boys, on the other hand, are considered to be assets for the parents, who fetch a considerable amount of dowry for them.
This evil of dowry system has created a stereotype notion among the parents of girl children as a “burden” on their household.
Anti female bias
Indian society is considered to be patrilineal, patriarchal and patrilocal. Among the Hindus, the laws of Manu(Coros,1984) govern reproduction and heredity beliefs. This law believes that a man doesn’t attaint redemption if he doesn’t have a son to light his funeral pyre.
Economic, social and emotional desires also favour male child over female because, besides religious consideration, parents expect a son to look after them and provide financial support to them at their old age.
Girl children are often killed for various financial reasons. Male is usually considered to be the ones earning income in the family. Hence male children are less likely to be killed by parents. Children as a male have more significant income potential, and they are considered to be the one who looks after their parents at old age. As seen in many cultures, a girl leaves her parental home and joins her husband’s family when she gets married. Due to this reason, some families who are unable to support a large family kill female children. In some societies, girls are considered to be a burden on family resources at the time of their birth as they don’t bring any economic benefits for their family later on.
Government policy has also led to an increase in female infanticide as a surprising side-effect. In countries like China where the government came with the initiative of one child per family to control the population. This led to unpredicted side-effects as people wanted to have a boy child as their only children and female infanticide surged, as it was considered that son has higher earning potential.
Female infanticide in different countries
Female infanticide is considered to be a significant problem in several parts of Asia. Even in west infanticide does occur but usually as isolated family tragedies and not on gender bias.
Asian centre for Human Rights in the year 2016 released its first-ever global report on “ Female Infanticide worldwide”. The report state that only South Korea was a country which maintained a healthy sex ratio and no other country other than South Korea was able to reverse child sex ratio at birth in favour of the girl child despite the number of laws & schemes adopted.
In India, female infanticide, as well as female foeticide (selective abortion of girl child in the mother womb), are two great significant issues. Female infanticide is an issue that has been prevalent in Indian culture from a very long period, partly due to the patriarchal nature of Indian society.
According to a report published in Lancet Global health, India stood 4th in global female infanticide. More than 2 lakh girls under the age of five die each year in India, and these numbers are notably higher in northern states of UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan. The figures are around 2.4 million in a decade.
To overcome this issue, certain law and measures have been put forward.
The first law that was introduced during the colonial period was the Female Infanticide Prevention Act 1870.This act authorized the formation of a police force to maintain the birth death and marriage registers and also conduct the census at the district level
Legally, infanticide amounts to homicide, and all legal provisions applicable to the offence of homicide apply to infanticide (Section 318 of Indian penal code states that concealment of birth by secret disposal of the dead body amounts to culpable homicide)
Beside specific legislation to deal with this menace, several other factors like dowry, poverty and women’s economic dependence lead to the female infanticide are also checked by several legislation like:
- Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961(Amended in 1986)
- Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
- Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956
- Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1986 
- Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 
The government of India has also tried several other ways to reduce discrimination against female and to change this notion they came with an initiative like “ Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” that aims at providing survival, education and safety to a girl child.
States like Tamil Nadu also tried several ways to tackle the issues where the government offered help to those parents, who had one or two daughters and no son. The government provided money annually for the education of the girl child and a considerable amount was provided on her twentieth birthday, either for the use of dowry or to fund higher education for a girl child.
Suggestions and measures to curb female infanticide
There is a need to promote education and awareness among all sections of society and mostly in rural areas where girl children are considered to be a burden on the family. There is a need to change this notion and treat everyone as equal, whether a girl or boy.
Free education should be provided to girl children at the school level. Strict laws should be made against female infanticide, and there should be strict punishment for violation of those laws.
Even eradicating the practice of offering dowry can help reduce female infanticide. As for most sections of the society girl child are a burden on the household as enormous resources have to be gathered to support the marriage of girl child.
Awareness should be brought that bearing a child is itself a symbol of high potency, and there is no difference whether it is a girl or boy. Everyone must believe that bringing up a girl child is like bringing up a future mother who has to restructure a family tomorrow.
With all advancements mankind has made till the 21st century, the fact that a heinous act such as female infanticide still exists is an unfortunate reality. It is a problem that stems from the ground levels of society and needs to be curbed right there. To eradicate this problem, we must start at its roots. Steps must be taken to change the misguided mindset of the general public about the contribution of females to the society and world in general, as therein lies the root cause. Free education and full utilization of mass media such as print media and news channels must be made to create awareness and increase sensitivity amongst the public, especially the rural demographic. The government and the society alike should work hard to close the gap between the two genders, both socially and economically, implementing laws and policy changes wherever necessary. Free education and opportunities to build better standards of living must be provided to young girls today, to build empowered women of tomorrow. To truly curb this practice, the youth of today must be taught to respect and value the women in our society and recognize their contribution and importance overall.
Female infanticide is a horrible act that prevails up to this day and can only be wiped out completely when the government and the society work hand in hand.
- Ansari,. (2018). “Born to Die”. Female infanticide and Feticide: An Analysis of India..
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is female infanticide?
- How does female infanticide affect society and the world in general?
- What are the leading causes of female infanticide?
- What are the laws that have been introduced to curb this problem?
- What are the measures that must be taken to eradicate this problem?