There are 63 million women statistically “missing” in India today due to a preference for sons, according to the Indian government’s annual economic survey released Monday.
The report attributed the nation’s skewed ratio of men to women (1,108 males to evey 1,000 females) largely to sex-selective abortions, called “female feticide,” along with disease, neglect, and inadequate nutrition.
Despite hopes that a growing economy would ease the pressure on Indian families to have sons, disproportionate birth rates have only increased as the country has developed. The report found an upward drift in the sex ratio across the country, but especially in the richest states, where the number is approaching 1,200 males to every 1,000 females.
The report detailed the reasons for the son preference:
- Property commonly passes to sons, not daughters.
- Women often move to their husbands’ houses after marriage, taking their labor with them.
- Although illegal, families still practice marriage dowries, meaning girls create an extra financial burden to families.
- Sons perform important religious rituals.
- Parents rely on support from their sons in old age.
These factors lead not only to the killing of baby girls in utero, but also to the oppression of little girls who are born. Studies have found girls in India are less educated, have poorer nutrition, and receive less medical care than boys.
For the first time, this year’s survey also tried to estimate the effects of something researchers called the “son meta preference,” finding families often keep having children until a son is born and then stop. Girls in those families are disadvantaged as resources and attention flow to the desired sons. The researchers estimated 21 million girls in India are unwanted by their families.
Despite all this, the report listed several indicators of improvement in the lives of girls and women in India, including educational attainment and personal agency in some household decision-making. But the ugly truth remains: “In some sense, once born, the lives of women are improving, but society still appears to want fewer of them to be born,” the report concluded.
These statistics tell a larger story about the appalling effects of a “son preference” globally, according to Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute.
Mosher has studied the issue in India and China and advocated for a proposed ban on sex-selective abortion in the United States, called the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which has been introduced in Congress several times to no avail. Mosher said the practice is all too common in the United States, especially among immigrant families from countries where it is practiced. But pro-abortion women’s groups have always opposed the bill even though Mosher contends sex-selective abortion is the worst kind of gender discrimination possible—a discrimination that kills.
Whereas female infanticide used to be more common in India, Mosher said sex detection technology “has pushed it back into the womb.” Despite laws that forbid using ultrasound to detect the gender of a baby for abortion, the practice is not only happening, but growing.
Mosher noted the mothers who have these abortions are often victims along with their prenatal daughters. Husbands and other relatives often pressure, and sometimes violently force, sex-selective abortions.
But Mosher believes there is hope, and it lies in a change of heart, not law.
“What people fail to realize is that it is Christianity that has raised the status of women,” Mosher said, noting Christians believe “we all possess an immortal soul, so we are all fundamentally equal.” He said sex-selective abortion can end if more people become Christians “because that elevates the status of women.”