India's girl shortage

India's uneven sex ratio makes marriageable women a rare commodity; dads benefit.

By Rebecca Traister
April 3, 2006 7:26PM (UTC)
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A disturbing Reuters story today about the declining numbers of girls born in Rajasthan, India: The sex ratio in some of the area's districts is at about 922 girls for every 1,000 boys, and in two villages, it has dropped to fewer than 500 girls.

The screwy birthrate proportions are due to the fact that some couples are illegally using ultrasound testing to determine the gender of their unborn babies in pursuit of highly desired sons. According to Reuters, a recent study suggested that half a million unborn females may be aborted every year in India.


Now, as a Broadsheet reader who forwarded this story pointed out, one might think that the overabundance of men would work out well for Indian women, might afford them some power. Nope. But it's working out great for their fathers, who are trading their rare girl commodities for husbands, and using them to ensure that their sons can also score wives. In an engagement practice called "aata-saata," or the "double-couple plan," fathers are refusing to agree to their daughters' marriages unless the prospective grooms also have sisters to marry into the family. And the traditional dowry that a bride's father has paid to a groom's family in exchange for taking his daughter off his hands? It's disappearing. Now the desperate groom's family is footing the bill for the engagement.

Prahland Singh, the head of Bhorki village in Rajasthan, told Reuters: "There are no girls. If there is one in a house, the father is like a king. He can demand anything."

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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Broadsheet India Love And Sex