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Census signals unabated killing of India's unborn girls

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 31 Mar 2011 12:15 GMT
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NEW DELHI (AlertNet) - Fewer girls have born in India over the last decade compared with boys, suggesting that female foeticide - the killing of unborn girls - continues unabated, early results of the country's 2011 national census revealed on Thursday.

Despite laws banning expectant parents from doing pre-natal tests to determine the gender of their unborn child, the illegal abortion of female foetuses is still common in some parts of India, where a preference for sons runs deep.

Provisional results from the Census of India show that while the female to male ratio in the population has improved since the last census in 2001, the number of girls under six years old has declined for the fifth consecutive decade.

"Whereas overall sex ratio has shown improvement since 1991, decline in child sex ratio(0-6) has been unabated since 1961 census," said a report from the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner.
 
There are now 940 females to every 1,000 males in India, compared to 933 in 2001, said the report. But the national child sex ratio shows there are only 914 girls compared with 927 a decade ago.
 
In parts of India, sons are traditionally viewed as the main breadwinners who will take care of the family, continue the family name, and perform the last rites of the parents - an important ritual in many faiths.

But daughters are often seen as a burden - not just because of the worry of having to pay a substantial dowry to get them married off, but also due to the need to protect their virginity, which often brings disrepute to the family if lost before marriage.

The government banned sex determination tests using techniques like ultrasonography and amniocentesis in 1996, to stop parents aborting children when they were found to be female.

But in Indian states like Haryana and Punjab in the north and Gujarat in the west, as well as the capital, New Delhi, the practice continues, with private doctors offering the service illegally to those willing to pay.

Social activists say the authorities have shown little will to implement and enforce legislation, with few prosecutions and even fewer convictions. They described the 2011 census as a "wake-up call" to the government and civil society to act before it is too late.

"The results clearly show that our girls are being murdered in the womb. There are less girls under the age of six years in our cities, towns and villages, and it is very worrying," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research (CSR), a gender-based think tank.

"The data speaks volumes (about) the lack of efforts made over the last decade - everything has been on the periphery and nothing has been done of any real substance to save our unborn daughters."

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