India to Change a Culture of Valuing Boys over Girls

02 February, 2015

For many years, Indian families seemed more interested in having boys than girls. This choice of boys has led to many illegal abortions. Doctors were told to end a pregnancy when the fetus showed signs of being female.

This custom has also led to a big problem in India – there are not enough girls compared to all the boys. The falling number of girls presents a major social issue for the country.

In a strong message, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Indians that "we cannot be counted as citizens of the 21st century." He said aborting female fetuses is worse than an 18th century way of thinking because girls are being killed even before they are born.

India to Change a Culture of Valuing Boys over Girls
In this 2009 file photo, newly born babies rest inside a hospital in the northern Indian city Lucknow. (REUTERS/Pawan Kumar/File)

PM Modi calls choosing boys over girls an "emotional disorder"

Mr. Modi said that valuing sons above daughters is an emotional disorder. And he called for a social awakening to see girls as valuable as boys.

The prime minister says no mother wants to do away with her child. But, he adds, family and social pressures make her involved in this crime.

In the traditional culture in India, sons are considered a valuable resource. They can earn money for the family and take care of parents in their old age. Girls are considered a liability, bringing financial pressure on the mother and father. That is because the parents have to give a dowry, usually money or property, to the family of the girl's husband.

Ultrasound technology has made knowing the sex of the unborn possible. Studies show that during the past 40 years, as many as 12 million girls may have been aborted.

India experiencing shortage of girls

Mr. Modi launched the campaign to "Save the Daughter, Teach the Daughter" in the northern state of Haryana. The state has the lowest number of girls to boys in India - 879 for 1,000 males. The national average is 917 girls for 1,000 males.

The campaign aims to reduce the sharp difference in the number of male and female births. It will seek to improve equality of the sexes through education. The program will enforce existing laws that ban the abortion of female fetuses. It will also seek to improve attendance of girls in schools.

Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi, said the difference between girls and boys is extremely serious in some states like Haryana.

She says the situation is so bad that according to government estimates no girls have been born for many years in 70 villages. She adds that in some villages there are only 500 girls for 1,000 boys.

Aborting female fetuses takes place in every class of Indian society. The poor and rich, urban and rural, uneducated and educated often want sons. In fact, researchers found that choosing to abort a female fetus is more common among educated women. They also found that religion made no difference. The International Development Research Centre carried out the study.

Last year, a United Nations report warned the lessening number of girls in India has reached an "emergency" level. It said this lack of women has caused an increase in some crimes such as the kidnapping and trafficking of women.

I'm Mario Ritter.

This report was based on a story from VOA's Anjana Pasricha in New Delhi. Anna Matteo wrote it for VOA Learning English with additional material from the International Development Research Centre. George Grow was the editor.

Words in this Story

abortion n. a medical procedure used to end a pregnancy and cause the death of the fetus

fetus n. a human being or animal in the later stages of development before it is born

dowry n. money or property that a wife or wife's family gives to her husband when the wife and husband marry in some cultures

liability n. the state of being legally responsible for something : the state of being liable for something; something (such as the payment of money) for which a person or business is legally responsible

ultrasound n. medical : a method of producing images of the inside of the body by using a machine that produces sound waves which are too high to be heard