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Tuesday, November 16, 1999 Published at 14:46 GMT

World: South Asia

Campaign to save girl babies

Cultural traditions favouring boys over girls die hard

By Satish Jacob in Delhi

Doctors in the Indian capital, New Delhi, are launching a campaign to raise awareness about the practice of aborting female foetuses in India simply because they are female.

Although the law bans sex determination tests, some Indian women have an abortion once an ultrasound test reveals that they are carrying girls.

The problem with trying to prevent couples aborting female foetuses is that cultural traditions die hard, and a particularly powerful one is that boys are infinitely more desirable than girls.

[ image: Deciding the sex of the baby is illegal]
Deciding the sex of the baby is illegal
The reason is simple: when parents marry off a daughter, society expects them to give a huge dowry to the boy's family.

This represents an enormous burden that often wipes out a family's entire savings.

But Doctor Vinay Aggarwal, co-ordinator of the Indian Medical Association or IMA, believes that a fundamental change in attitude is possible.

Doctors targeted

The IMA's rally in Delhi will kick off a nationwide campaign to educate people about what Doctor Aggarwal describes as a degrading and inhuman practice.

Doctors in particular will be a target.

By helping couples abort a female foetus, Doctor Aggarwal says, doctors are conspiring to ensure that, as he puts it, a little innocent girl in the womb is denied the right to live, even before she is born.

Estimates of the number of female foetuses being destroyed every year in India vary from two million to five million.

A law passed three years ago forbids this practice.

But the police are usually in the dark when it happens because of the conspiracy of silence that exists between couples and doctors.

Devastating consequences

According to the IMA, the consequences for Indian society are devastating.

He points to the figures of the last census eight years ago which show that in some parts of India, the population had only 879 women for every 1,000 males and in some states such as Rajasthan, where there tends to be even greater discrimination against women, the figure is as low as 600 females for every thousand males.

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