Female infanticide and female feticide have eliminated the lives of millions of girls across the globe. These issues are particularly prevalent in South Asian and East Asian countries, especially India and China - two of the world's most populous countries. Female gendercide has also crossed borders because of immigration and is being seen in Canada, the United Kingdom, and America. It is an issue of global scale now and the consequences are rippling across the globe. The reasons for female gendercide are rooted in a complex mix of economic, social, cultural and political factors which ultimately lead to the devaluation of the girl-child.
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 performing 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 incomes and struggle for daily survival needs. They cannot handle the costs associated with raising multiple children. With the perspective that a son provides more overall benefit, the higher value given to males decreases the relative value given to females.
ONE AND TWO CHILD POLICIES
China and India have huge populations. To curb population growth, the Chinese government instituted the one-child rule in 1935, allowing only one child per family. India strongly recommends a two-child per-family policy, and takes away benefits with the 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 believes a son gives filial piety and honors the 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 groom’s families. 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 happen 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.
With the higher power dynamic of males and the lower value given to females, girls are more vulnerable to social evils. Violence against women in the form of acid burning, dowry death, rapes and public harassment, honor killing, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, foot binding, and marriage abuse are common problems in South Asian countries because of gender inequality and higher numbers of men. Parents worry more about a girl for these reasons and fret about the kind of world they will be bringing her up in. They much prefer to have and raise a male child instead.
Lack of education is another huge factor in female infanticide. Many people in India and China are poor. They live in rural areas or villages and have had only rudimentary schooling. People are ignorant about birth control methods and do not understand the value of a girl child. Female infanticide however also cuts across the class barrier and is seen in well-to-do families. Both spectrums are ignorant and do not realize the future serious repercussions that the ongoing killing of girls creates for society.
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.