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Gender selection: In India, abortion of girls on the rise

Gender selection via abortion appears to be on the rise in India – and more common among the wealthy. India's upper classes tend to have fewer children and more access to ultrasounds that reveal their babies’ sex. The gender imbalance means fewer women available to be wives.

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“Everyone wants boys – not just the rich,” he says. “But it is the rich who can easily afford to access the technology.”

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Though it is illegal in India for a doctor to tell parents the gender of their unborn child, or to abort on the grounds of sex, there have been almost no prosecutions for the crime. It is carried out “by every doctor with almost no exception,” says Dr. Bedi.

“Save the girl child” campaigns launched by both governments and NGOs have raised people’s awareness about the issue of female feticide, but apparently done little to change their behavior.

(The Monitor wrote about China's gender imbalance. You can read that here.)

Budding appreciation for girls?

There are hopes that the effects of a skewed sex ratio now becoming dramatically visible in places like Nandgaon will make parents reassess their urge to abort baby girls.

Villagers here say that the dearth of females has already had a direct effect on dowry customs: Dowries are getting smaller or disappearing altogether; instead, the onus is increasingly on young men to provide well for their future brides.

So bad are the romantic prospects of many bachelors in Haryana that they have started to take a step unthinkable a generation ago: importing women from other states, and often religions, to marry.

The Red Cross Society of India, which campaigns against female feticide across the country, estimates that at least 100 women from outside Haryana have been bought by men in the district of Bhiwani, one of Haryana’s 21 regions. In Nandgaon, at least five brides have been imported from other states.

Baljeet Singh, a 37-year-old truck driver, says he began to despair of finding a local wife once he turned 26. Men in this village, where most are farmers, consider it ideal to wed between 20 and 25. “I’m a van driver, I don’t have many prospects, and it seems that you have to have a very good job to get a bride these days,” he says.

So last year, Mr Singh used his life savings to marry a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Assam; though village rumors have it that Sonu Khutum is an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh. She is happy to be living in a predominantly Hindu village, she says, joggling the couple’s 7-month-old baby girl on her hip.

But lonely bachelors’ new quick fix, buying brides from impoverished parts of India, seems likely to do little to enhance the status of women.

Since Singh married, single friends have been lining up for matrimonial advice. They have one question, he says, as he gestures toward his young wife, who stands shyly in a corner: “How can I get one?


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