Human Rights Diary - January 2013

Covert violence against women: Sex selection and foeticide

By Olinda Timms

The horrifying rape and death of the 23-year-old physiotherapist in Delhi was the tipping point that led to nationwide glamour against this social crime that has shown no signs of abatement, even after years of protests from human rights groups, women’s organizations and activists.  The existing law does not deter these criminals and shoddy enforcement allows even the most heinous rapists off with shockingly light sentences.

The time is right for tough reform.  It is also time to look at the criminal within us and address ‘invisible’ forms of violence against women, beginning with female foeticide.  As Indians, our preference for sons has led to the ‘disappearance of daughters’ and a dangerously skewed sex ratio in many states that, it is warned, can be a contributing factor for attacks against women and human trafficking.

The social reasons for sex selection include traditional male preference, burden of dowry, safety concerns for girls and view of women as belonging to the family they marry into.  It is compounded by the small family norm that adds pressure to beget a male heir.  Female infanticide has now been replaced with female foeticide as a means to achieving this end.

The States with the worst sex ratios are Haryana, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi NCR.  It is not entirely incidental that these states have the highest record of rape and violence against women.  With more than 600 cases of rape reported in New Delhi this year (and only one conviction) it means at least two women are brutally assaulted every day in the national capital.

The 2011 world census revealed that India, with its ration of 914 girls for every 1000 boys is among the lowest ranked in the world.  The Indian census 2011 reported 933 girls for every 1000 boys, setting off alarm bells in the health Ministry and political establishment.  A fall-out of the skewed ratio is growing numbers of young men, mostly unemployed or low-wage earners who may be deprived of the prospect of a family.  Sociologists suggest this can lead to antisocial behavior and violence, threatening the stability of society.  A study by Hudson and Den Boer in Asian countries, including India, showed strong correlation between homicidal rates and skewed  ratio in individual states across this country, after controlling for con-founders such as urbanization and poverty.

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