By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - Early results of India's 2011 census reveal that fewer girls have been born over the last decade compared with boys, suggesting that the illegal practice of female foeticide - the killing of unborn girls - continues unabated.
While the overall female to male ratio has improved since the last census in 2001, the number of girls under six-years-old has declined for the fifth decade running -- there are now only 914 girls to every 1,000 boys, compared with 927 a decade ago.
Here are key questions and answers about the practice in India and its implications
WHY IS FEMALE FOETICIDE HAPPENING?
In parts of largely patriarchal India, there is a strong preference for male children. 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 marry them off but also due to the need to protect their virginity, which, if lost before marriage, often brings disrepute to the family.
WHICH AREAS AND COMMUNITIES HAVE THE MOST SKEWED SEX RATIOS?
According to latest census figures, the northwestern region of Haryana has the worst child sex ratio with 830 girls to every 1,000 boys -- with states like Punjab (846), Gujarat (886), Rajasthan (883) and even the capital New Delhi (866) following closely behind.
Female foeticide cuts across all sections of Indian society – with no regard to caste, religion, or geography. It is practiced by the wealthy, the middle classes and the poor, in urban areas and now spreading into rural regions.
WHAT EFFORTS HAVE BEEN MADE TO STOP THE PRACTICE?
India introduced the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques or Prohibition of Sex Selection Act in 1994 to prevent doctors disclosing the gender of babies to expectant parents using techniques likes ultrasonography and amniocentesis.
Signs in hospitals and clinics clearly state that gender testing is an offence and pregnant women who go for an ultrasound are required to file declarations they will not seek to know the gender of the baby.
However, activists say, this has not been enforced by local authorities and law enforcement agencies, resulting a rise of underground private clinics and unlicensed doctors illegally offering sex selection testing and abortions for anyone willing to pay.
Police say it is not easy to catch offenders -- the agents, parents and doctors -- as the tests and subsequent abortions take place in a very clandestine manner. There have been few convictions, and penalties such as fines are too lenient to act as a deterrent.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF HAVING FEWER WOMEN IN SOCIETY?
Experts warn that increasing foeticide in India could spark a demographic crisis where fewer women in society will result in a rise in sexual violence, child-abuse and wife-sharing.
They say that with fewer women in the population and more men of the same age group, the demand for women will surge in terms of marriage and sex and this pressure will increase violence against women.
Practices such as polyandry -- where several men, often brothers, share the same wife-- are already emerging in areas where there are fewer women and brides are now being sold and trafficked by their parents to areas outside their own.