This Byte describes violent events and may be triggering to some readers.
In many cultures around the world, the birth of a boy is a reason for immense celebration and joy in a family — but the birth of a girl can bring anger, sadness, neglect due to the misguided belief that women and girls don't have economic or social value.
This belief can have dangerous consequences. Female infanticide — when parents or other family members intentionally murder a girl before she reaches the age of 1 — is a tragic reality in places where female births are often devalued.
The United Nations reported in 2020 that female infanticide and sex-selective terminations of pregnancies have led to the loss of more than 142.6 million girls globally.
It's important to note that no religion or government actively promotes female infanticide. While these age-old practices are a direct contradiction to the Universal Human Rights to Life and many national laws, there are still communities that practice it.
Why does infanticide continue to happen?
In many cultures, there is an overwhelming belief in male superiority, leading to the perception that women hold or add no significant value to society because they can't carry the family lineage forward and bring no prestige to the family name.
Infanticide is more common in places where providing for children is difficult due to poverty. However, the frequency of terminating pregnancies of girls is much higher than of boys, primarily because bearing a son is believed to be a greater investment that will produce considerable revenue in the future.
Perception of women as a financial burden
The pressure of not being able to pay for a girl's dowry at the time of her marriage limits her existence to being a financial burden that families prefer to get rid of as soon as or before the child is born.
In some communities, a family's honor is often said to depend on a girl's virginity. A girl's birth increases unnecessary security pressure on the family of keeping the child untouched or virginal until wedlock. Female infanticides in such societies are more common because some families want to avoid risking their honor by bearing a girl child.
Lack of political representation
The underrepresentation of women in the political sphere and a dominant male political culture leads to more gender-centric crimes.
Lack of Education
For traditional communities where there is limited exposure to strong female role models, it's hard to imagine girls growing up, aspiring to strong careers, getting a university education, earning a high income, or starting businesses.
This perpetuates chauvinistic thoughts and restricts female mobility and freedom, depriving girls of their inherent right to life.
Lack of Awareness
Instances of female infanticide rarely make headlines in many parts of the world because they're falsely reported as stillbirths, or the babies aren't registered under the state so there can't be legal proceedings against perpetrators.
How does it impact society?
Ideally, the sex ratio between men and women must be equal or close to 1:1, so that there's one man for every woman.
However, an increase in female infanticide can lead to a skewed sex ratio, making women and girls more vulnerable to sexual violence and human trafficking.
Sex-selective pregnancy terminations can also lead to life-threatening conditions for women in places where abortions are illegal. Relying on unsafe "back alley" abortion practitioners leaves mothers in a vulnerable health state and increases the risks of a high infant mortality rate in a country.
Targeted violence against women undermines every woman's existence. It instills an unwanted fear, anger, and frustration within women instead of allowing them to focus on gaining greater social and economic independence.
Are there laws in place against infanticide or feticide?
In the 19th Century, social reformers and Christian missionaries saw a worrying number of female infanticides in the British Raj. They pushed colonial authorities to pass the Female Infanticide Prevention Act in 1870, which authorized the establishment of a police force that maintained birth, marriage, and death certificates. They had the authority to arrest or fine any person suspected of neglecting or endangering a female child. A version of this Act continues to be in effect in modern-day Pakistan.
When ultrasound and other technologies to determine a child's sex became popular and accessible in the 1980s, several reports emerged where parents aborted their female fetuses as soon as they found out about the baby's sex The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT) was introduced in 1994 with the objective to prevent and punish those who were abusing sex screening procedures and technologies for sex-selective pregnancy termination.
China has a long history of female infanticide dating back to the late 16th Century.
In 1995, legislation was established where identification of the fetus for sex selection was forbidden and medical personnel who undertook sex identification for this purpose were sanctioned.
In 2017, Armenia had the third-highest rate of female feticide in the world. While the government created many measures and laws to reverse the trend, including making it compulsory for doctors to question the motives for an abortion and refusing the procedure for sex selection or terminations after 12 weeks, it was reported by women's rights groups that it only made families opt for unsafe abortions.
What can I do to prevent female infanticide in my community?