India tries cash incentives to save its girls
Selective abortion has intensified amid the pressure to have boys in India. Now the federal and state governments are trying cash incentives to persuade Indians not to abort females.
Not long ago, Mullahera, a village on what was then the outskirts of New Delhi, was the kind of place where families wanted a boy. Their reasoning was simple: A boy could inherit farmland, work the fields, and provide space in his future home for elderly parents.Skip to next paragraph
But in January, local officials came to Mullahera – now nestled alongside the glass towers of the ever-expanding city – to present residents with a significant gift: a check for 100,000 rupees, or $2,200, for producing more girl than boy births.
With selective abortion of girls in India worse than ever, the state of Haryana – which has one of the worst birth ratios – has started to reward the village in each district that is defying the odds.
Haryana is not the only state trying such a tactic. The federal and state governments in India are testing cash incentives to encourage pregnant women to not screen for gender and abort their girls – a problem that grows with wealth and access to ultrasound technology. But while the programs offer stories of progress, activists say they distract from serious crackdowns on illegal gender testing.
"We should give as many resources to girls and women [as we can]. I have no problem with that. But implement the law," says Sabu George, a campaigner against selective-sex abortion in India.
Mullahera showed a birth ratio of 1,188 girls to 1,000 boys in 2009. That's way ahead of the latest figures for the district (an 853 to 1,000 ratio), the state (an 877 to 1,000 ratio), and India (a 914 to 1,000 ratio).
Some of the 5,310 residents say that urbanization has improved the image of girls. "Now, with education, the work profile has changed," says Begraj Yadav, a local politician. "Girls are better office workers."
The village chief, Manoj Yadav, says he frequently tells parents about women who hold government jobs, like their district commissioner. Even in sports, girls inspire: A Haryana woman climbed Mt. Everest.
In one local home, Lakshmi Yadav lives with her two adult daughters, who each have one daughter. None of the women have sons, and they aren't troubled by it.
"Do you think girls don't serve their parents when they get old? Girls are better any day," says Mrs. Yadav. Villagers point out that the tradition of a son living with elderly parents is fading. Yadav concedes a downside to girls: having to pay a dowry to marry them. "Look at the prices! We console ourselves saying this is enough [children] for us – even one girl is enough."
What the numbers say
The idea that urbanization is ending a preference for boys does not show up in national data, however. In fact, urban areas and wealthier regions have the worst ratios. That's because of access to ultrasounds, says Prabhat Jha, at the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto. "The preference for boys is pretty similar across India, rich areas or poor areas, north or south, educated or uneducated," he says. But "houses that have the money and means to get tested and abort girls are going to be the ones using [ultrasounds]."