The Current State of Female Specific Abortion and Infanticide

Citizens of highly developed countries are sometimes complacent regarding the quality of life, rights and freedoms they enjoy. Stories of incomprehensible barbarism and naked injustice abroad disturb them, but do not necessarily motivate activism. Whether from feelings of powerlessness, attitudes of contempt or afflictions of lassitude, those with the means to address brutal practices and mindsets simply shake their heads and move on with their lives. Meanwhile, abuses, oppression and crimes against humanity rage. Nowhere is this more stark than those places where the compulsory abortion or infanticide of girls is an unquestioned cultural norm…if not a stated national policy.

This is not to say that sex-selective abortions and infanticide only occur in developing countries. For instance, two nation-states where these practices thrive are China and India. According to the World Bank, China is considered an “upper middle-income” state whereas India counts as a “lower middle-income” country. Economics is indeed a factor in female infanticide and sex-selective abortion but it is not the only one. Of course, governments may introduce population restriction measures as a means to contain poverty. Whether sensible or ill-advised, nonetheless, the regulation is almost always directed at the female side of the equation.

Historical Facts About Infanticide

Infanticide is the willful killing of very young children. When resources are scarce and circumstances forbidding, parents are willing to put their children to death. While most of the world’s major religious systems rebuke this practice, it continues regardless of local faiths and beliefs. In fact, archaeologists find evidence of infanticide on every continent dating back to ancient times. From Syrians, Carthaginians and Phoenicians in the near east to the storied cultures of Greece and Rome to the Incan Empire in the new world, infanticide was reality regardless of official sanction or prohibition…

and it continues today, virtually everywhere that people inhabit.

How Infanticide Became Gender-Specific

For nearly three decades, several areas of the world have experienced a growing disparity in male to female birth ratios, with male births leading by up to 25 percent according to the United Nations Population Fund. As noted, a cultural tilt toward sons is deep and abiding in many parts of the world. Depending on the cultural mores of a nation or region, male children are often entitled to a better inheritance—and often charged with greater responsibility, including care for parents in their dotage—than are girls. In fact, female children are in many ways seen as liabilities, particularly if they do not bear sons in adulthood. Large dowries are frequently hedges against this contingency and infanticide is a way of negating the possibility of such financial losses. In China, a country known for prohibitive policies regarding childbirth, a bent against females predates Communism by several thousand years, finding its roots in Confucian values.

Likewise, the ancient Hindu caste system prevalent so long in India continues to affect attitudes toward and treatment of women and girls. Men were held up as superior providers, and only men could conduct Hindu funeral ceremonies. Today, estimates put average female infanticide rates at 200,000 – and this number does not embrace the incidents of foeticide, i.e. female-specific abortions.

Female-Specific Abortions

In several Indian states, foeticide is such a frequent resort that the number of girls is dropping precipitously. From 1991 to present, Punjab, for example, has witnessed a 50 point reduction of young women in its population. Similarly, research indicated that men exceed women in China by 33 million, a direct result of forced abortions since 1979, when the one-(female) child laws went into effect (they have since been rolled back). The Chinese promoted the rules on the basis of economic sustainability. They now think otherwise. Why the change?

Selective Abortions in the United States and Europe

While the birth rate in the US and Europe is more balanced between male and female, more males than females are born every year and abortion is generally a legal practice. While the male to female ratio is 1.06:1 in the European Union compared to 1.12:1 in India and 1.15:1 in China, there are still more males than females, many countries in Africa where genetic screening and testing is not available have a ratio closer to 1.02:1 indicating that female selective abortions may be taking place in these more “developed” nations also. Surveys indicate that if Americans were to only have one child, more would prefer a boy than a girl. One Charlotte abortion clinic has found that general opinion to be the case.

In addition to gender bias that may play into the abortion rate, doctors in the US and Europe put pressure on women to abort their babies when there is an indication of birth defect or Down’s syndrome. In Europe, it is almost unheard of for babies with Trisomy 21 to be born because 92% are aborted in the womb. Unfortunately, the diagnosis for this genetic difference is often misdiagnosed so plenty of children who would have been born healthy and normal are also kept from their first breath.

Recently in the US, there has been legislation that allows women to abort their babies via lethal injection, even up to the point of healthy delivery. As the political climate changes, there is no telling what people will lose protection under the law in favor of cultural preferences.

Effects of Female-Selective Abortion and Infanticide

The prejudice against female nativity has yielded numerous social problems where it exists. Where men outnumber women by leaps and bounds, violence against women increases also, as do occurrences of child brides and sex trafficking. This happens in China, India and other Asiatic nations. In a new trend, the New York Times reports that women in China are so worried about being economic burdens, that they are waiving any future as mothers in favor of careers.

What Does the Future Hold?

As indicated above, the Chinese government, India and supra-national bodies are taking actions to reverse the damaging demographic fruit that grows from a bias against women. Still, this response is long overdue and may only scratch the surface given the longstanding cultural ideologies that inform foeticide and female infanticide. New laws—enforced consistently—along with public education and female opportunities are key to reversing millennia of the devaluation of women.

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