Female gendercide is an issue of global scale now and the consequences are rippling across the world. The reasons for infanticide and feticide are rooted in a complex mix of economic, social, cultural and political factors which ultimately lead to the devaluation of the girl-child and the decision to eliminate her life.
Many South Asian countries have patriarchal societies where the males carry higher importance, and greater political leadership, social privilege, and power. It is a social system in which men are dominant. Sons traditionally carry on the family name, inherit ancestral property, and extend the family lineage. The "lower status" with which women are viewed in these societies creates a certain negative bias against females and a lower value assigned to them.
In many Asian families, a boy contributes to the family income financially. In rural households, which make up almost half of the Chinese and Indian population, males are also valuable for perform agricultural work and manual labor. Families believe that sons provide more economic benefit in the long-term as opposed to girls and a boy child is more prized when it arrives. A girl is considered a responsibility and a burden.
In countries with huge populations, limited means and limited food and money, another child is another mouth to feed and an expensive burden. Many families live on minimal income and struggle for daily survival needs. They are unable to handle the costs associated with raising multiple children. Since sons are perceived as an investment and as having more overall benefit, families do not want female children.
ONE AND TWO CHILD POLICIES
China and India have huge populations. To curb population growth, the Chinese government instituted the one-child rule, allowing only one child per family. India strongly recommends a two-child per-family policy, and takes away crucial government benefits from families who have a third. These policies intensified the problem of infanticide and sex-selective abortion, as parents tried to fill their one and two-child quotas with their cultural preferences for a son.
OLD AGE SECURITY
In South Asian cultures, a boy looks after the parents in their old age. It is considered that sons are an old-age support, security, and investment for parents as they grow older, while daughters are not, because they leave parents after their marriage to join and care for their husband’s family. There is a saying in South Asian cultures - “bringing up a daughter is like watering a plant in another’s courtyard”. In this way sons are looked upon as a type of insurance for the parent's future.
In the Hindu religion, it is believed that a son or a male relative must fulfill the last funeral rites for a parent, so the soul can pass to heaven and achieve salvation. There is also the feeling that a son carries on the family name and lineage, while it dies out with a daughter. "Doodhon nahao, poothon phalon" is a often-heard blessing to women in India, "May you be blessed with many sons". Chinese culture also promotes filial piety and that sons honors their ancestors. This further embeds the desire for sons over daughters within the psyche of parents.
Girls traditionally do not inherit family wealth in South Asian cultures. Girls’ families are expected to give gifts and money as compensation when a girl is married, called dowry. Over time, expectations have increased from the groom’s family. Now dowry extortion in the form of cash, cars, gold, a house, and expensive gifts are huge expenses when a girl is married. Dowry murders and harassment occur when grooms and their families are unhappy with the amount of dowry given. A girl child is often considered a huge future liability for this reason.
The disparate gender power dynamic also makes girls more vulnerable to social evils. Violence against women in the form of acid attacks, dowry death, rapes and public harassment, honor killing, sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, and domestic abuse are common problems in South Asian countries due to gender inequality and higher numbers of men. Parents worry more about raising a girl for these reasons and the kind of world they will be bringing her up in and prefer to have a male child instead.
LACK OF EDUCATION
Ignorance is another huge factor in female infanticide. Gendercide cuts across strata and happens in both poor and affluent, educated families equally. Both spectrums do not realize the serious repercussions that the ongoing killing of girls creates for society. Also, many poor families live in rural areas and have had only rudimentary schooling and lack access to birth control. Improving education at many levels, has been shown to help reduce female gendercide.
DEVALUATION OF THE GIRL-CHILD
When all of these factors are taken as a whole, it creates a society where a girl child is devalued. In many South Asian communities, the birth of a daughter is regarded as an unwelcome event, an occasion of sorrow. A male child is valued and given more preference than a female. Under such circumstances an easy cavalier decision is taken to exterminate one gender over the other. The primary decision-making factor in killing girls over boys is a choice based on a cost-benefit comparative analysis between the two sexes. For millions of couples the answer is - abort the daughter, try for a son.