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Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 12:30 GMT
India targets female foeticide
Ultrasound scan
Ultrasounds seal the fate of female foetuses

The Indian Government has formalised legal powers to crack down on the abuse of pre-natal screening techniques as part of increasing efforts to curb female foeticide.

Figures have fallen to as low as fewer than eight girls for every 10 boys

The cultural preference for sons rather than daughters has skewed sex ratios in India.

In some states young men, reaching marriageable age, are finding it hard to find brides.

For many years, there have been reports of baby girls being neglected, malnourished or even killed at birth.

But the growing availability of pre-natal screening techniques has brought a new dimension to the problem.

Raids

In some of the worst-affected states, such as Punjab and Haryana, the proportion of baby girls is steadily declining.

Indian girls
Prejudice against girls runs deep
Instead of a natural birth ratio of slightly more girls than boys, figures have fallen to as low as fewer than eight girls for every 10 boys.

The authorities are starting to take action.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that sex selection clinics and the abortion of girls are still widespread.

But tougher legislation is making it possible for the authorities to crack down, staging raids on pre-natal clinics to check records and look for evidence of illegal sex selection.

Officials admit it is hard to find evidence.

Pre-natal scans to check for abnormalities are legal and it can be impossible to prove that a doctor has in fact used one to reveal a baby's sex.

Bride-buying

The long- term solution may be to change attitudes.

Girls are often seen as a burden because they have to be protected and need large sums of money for wedding dowries.

Some people say they need boys to carry on the family line, whereas girls leave to join their husband's families.

Others say a father needs a son to light his funeral pyre when he dies.

But in Haryana, some villages are starting to feel the long-term impact of their prejudice.

A whole generation of young men is reaching marriageable age only to find there is a shortage of brides.

This, in turn, is leading to a new practice - that of buying in young brides from poor families outside the state.

See also:

04 Feb 03 | South Asia
01 Feb 02 | Americas
04 May 00 | South Asia
16 Nov 99 | South Asia
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