Why Indians Are Failing Their Daughters – International Women’s Day Special

India – the land of colorful cultural heritage; the land where goddesses are revered as powerful protectors and preservers, is also the land where nearly 44 million women were reported missing as of 2001.  Female infanticide (murdering a girl child right after birth), female foeticide (through sex-selective abortion), neglect of a female child, and abandoning female infants at birth are the reasons why the child sex ratio (CSR) in India has dipped from 962 girls for 1000 boys in 1981, to 927 girls for 1000 boys in 2001, to 940 girls for 1000 boys in 2011.

According to the Census data from 2011, the sex ration has improved over 2001 numbers, in part due to rising awareness about issues such as female infanticide and foeticide, sting operations my media and fear of legal crackdown. Kerala, the Southern most state in India has the highest ratio of men to women, with 1,084 women for every 1,000 men. Haryana has abysmally low ratios with 877 women for every 1,000 men. Sates like Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Punjab all have alarming ratios of less than 900 women for every 1,000 men.

VidaManejo-Why Indians Are Failing Their Daughters

What’s the Indian Government’s Stance on the Protection of Girl Child?

It must be noted that the girl child enjoys a special status in India, with countless cash transfer schemes at the national and state level for parents giving birth to a girl. Sex-selective abortions are banned in India. Expecting parents are not legally allowed to know the sex of their unborn child in India.

But where there’s demand, there’s supply! Parents are willing to shell extra bucks to know the sex of their child and doctors are willing to comply. If doctors around town don’t comply, there’s always a foreign country for rich parents to get that sex-selective abortion or sex-selective conception. Doctors have found smart ways to navigate the law; they might not explicitly state the sex of the fetus, but dole out a pink candy for a girl and blue for a boy. As a result neither the criminal parents, nor the corrupt doctors have any fear of the law, constantly finding ways to evade the law.

Vida Manejo, India, International Women Day
Credit: Reuters/Vivek Prakash

But why are Indians so desperate for boys in the first place?

3 regressive and socially disruptive practices are the largest contributors:

  1. Dowry – The evil practice of dowry exists in India, where parents are forced to transfer large amounts of money to the groom’s family when a girl is married off. The idea is for the girl to have her own pot of savings for future. In reality, it’s a price that the parents pay to get their daughter married off to a suitable groom. The more educated, handsome or well-to-do a groom is, higher his price! Most parents consider their daughters a burden as a result because her marriage can economically bankrupt the family.
  2. Gender Roles – In the patriarchal society of India, women have exceptionally low workforce participation rates. Only 29% of women over the age of 15 work in India, and this is lower than any comparable BRICS country (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Men in the household are prepped for employment through education opportunities and vocational trainings, while girls are often trained for household chores. With lack of employment opportunities due to cultural restrictions, women are economically disempowered and at the mercy of their in-laws, parents or husbands. Due to social reasons, parents prefer staying with their sons in old age, rather than their daughters. Parents therefore perceive the son to be an investment for their retirement, and a daughter a burden who is handed over to another household. 
  3. Parental Property Rights – According to the 1994 Hindu Succession (Amendment) Bill, both sons and daughters have equal claim to family’s property. Despite the provision of this financial protection, most women still relinquish their rights to property because of existing cultural traditions and family pressures. Implicitly, the sons of the family are regarded the rightful inheritors of parental property.

There’s a common saying in India – “Beti Paraya Dhan”, translation – a daughter is another household’s valuable commodity. Tweet This!

India, International Women Day
Labor participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15+), Credit: World Bank

Is plummeting sex-ration really an issue? Why should anyone care?

With cases of despicable abuses in cases of dowry, gang-rapes, and perverse forms gender violence rising in India, we are forced to wonder where things went wrong with India? When we read about villages in Haryana where no women were left to marry, we were shocked! Women were being imported from low-income households from other states. Despite these harsh realities, men in these villages continue their patriarchal ways and insist on having more boys. rather than girls.

India, International Women's Day,
Credit: BBC

Experts have speculated that the worrisome surplus of men may lead to more crime and social disorders. This can be attributed to an increase in the population of frustrated single males and the increase in the level of testosterone in the society.  Others have considered that a decrease in the number of women will diminish political power of women, further  marginalizing women.

Vida Manejo, International Womens Day
Credit: Amnesty International, Human Rights Now Blog

According to TrustLaw’s latest poll, India ranked the worst place for women among the G20 nations. The analysis also reflected the opinions of 370 gender specialists across the world. According to Amnesty International, sex-selective abortions, unequal access to education, perils of child marriage, discriminatory practices against women, sex-trafficking, and widespread illiteracy amongst women pushes India to the lowest ranking among G20 nations. 

Today is International Women’s Day (March 8), a day to recognize the contribution of women to the society. Sadly, it’s also a day for recognition that the current state of the Indian society is not optimal for the development, empowerment and well-being of the Indian women. The first step is recognizing that problems exist within the Indian culture, legal systems and policies that disempower women. We wanted to dedicate this day to acknowledging these widespread issues, in hope that someday, Indians will treat their women right!


  • Census of India Data – http://censusindia.gov.in/2011-prov-results/paper2/prov_results_paper2_india.html
  • Mohit Sahni NV, D. Narula, Raji Mathew Varghese, V. Sreenivas, Jacob M. Puliyel. Missing Girls in India: Infanticide, Feticide and Made-to-Order Pregnancies? Insights from Hospital-based Sex-Ratio-at-Birth over the Last Century. PLoS ONE 2008;3(5):1-6.
  • Singh PMM. Prime Minister’s address at the National Meeting on “Save the Girl Child”. In. New Delhi; 2008.
  • Gentleman A. India still fighting to ‘save the girl child’. In. Global Edition of New York Times ed. New Delhi: International Herald Tribune; 2005.
  • BBC, India’s Unwanted Girls, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13331808
  • Goodkind D. Should prenatal sex selection be restricted? Ethical questions and their implications for research and policy. Population Studies 1999;53(1):49-61.

  • Amnesty International, Human Rights Now Blog, http://blog.amnestyusa.org/asia/the-worst-place-to-be-a-woman-in-the-g20


5 thoughts on “Why Indians Are Failing Their Daughters – International Women’s Day Special

  1. Thank you for your article. It reads for me as a map for fixing the worst problems facing women in India. Each one of us has a responsibility to empower women based on our God given talents.

    We are all one…and an injustice to one is an injustice to us all. Your article shows how even men are left “woman less” when our women are not protected. An injustice may not be felt by all immediately…but eventually it is. Watching the room beside you go up in flames will lead to dying from the smoke in the next room or…. from when the fire finally reaches you. You may not know what to do to help someone…but you must never stop looking for how to help and never hesitate when you find it.

    No village can be it’s best until all are treated best. No person can be their best until all are treated best. And you cannot be your best…until you try your best to help others.

    Love has always been the answer to these problems…and kindness the cure for every injustice.

    Thank you, Mudita Tiwari. Shukria, Behen.

    1. Thanks so much. Yes, indeed we need to do so much more as a nation, as people. Crimes against women happen everywhere and the incidence of rape is shameful in the United States, UK too. But as a culture, I think we are so far from accepting this reality. Hoping for a brighter future for women in India.

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