Indian society still doesn't think much of girls

A new study finds that half a million female fetuses are aborted there every year.

Published January 10, 2006 5:16PM (EST)

Here's a very disturbing story from Canada's Globe and Mail: According to British medical journal the Lancet an estimated half a million female fetuses are aborted in India every year by parents who want more "economically beneficial" boys. The Globe and Mail says that this translates into "at least 10 million 'missing girls' since ultrasounds and other sex-selection tests became available two decades ago -- a striking example of modern technology facilitating age-old prejudices."

Researchers, led by Dr. Prabhat Jha, director of the Center for Global Health Research at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, based their findings on a "massive" fertility and mortality survey that included information from more than 6 million people. They found that "when a first child was a boy, the number of second children was equally split among girls and boys. But if the first-born was a girl, the number of girls born subsequently fell off precipitously," according to the Globe and Mail.

Interestingly, researchers found that though "anti-girl bias is usually associated with the rural poor," the study shows it is far more widespread among affluent urbanites. Households where the mother had a better education -- and presumably the money to afford tests like ultrasounds or amniocentesis -- were much less likely to give birth to a second daughter if their first child was a girl.

The article says that India's patriarchal society is to blame because it emphasizes the need for male heirs to help earn money for the family. Girls, on the other hand, are seen as "economic and social burdens" because they will eventually marry, leave home and require a large dowry. The article quotes an Indian maxim that states: "Grooming a girl is like watering a neighbor's garden."

Dr. Shirish Sheth of Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, who wrote a commentary that accompanied the Lancet article, said that "female infanticide of the past" has now been "refined and honed to a fine skill in this modern guise."

We told you it was disturbing.

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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