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Family Planning

Phenomenon Of "missing Women"

In the 1980s and 1990s in several Asian countries, the proportion of girls born and living appeared to be steadily decreasing. In India, the ratio of women to men was 929 females to 1,000 males, whereas in 1901 it was 972. In China after the one-child family policy was implemented in 1979, the sex ratio became more skewed. There were 94.1 women per 100 males in the 1982 census; in the 1990 census, there were only 93.8 females per 100 males. Demographic data shows that in the early 2000s in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, West Asia, and Egypt, 100 million or more women were unaccounted for by official statistics. Further skewing of sex ratios particularly in the world's two most populous countries, India and China, are likely to create serious demographic and gender issues in the future.

One factor contributing to the problem of "missing women" is sex-selective abortions. New technologies such as amniocentesis, ultrasound, and chorionic biopsy, developed for purposes of prenatal testing for birth defects, are increasingly used for the purpose of sex determination. Sex-selection procedures are increasingly advertised in the United States as scientific advances intended to improve choice in family planning and they are likely to become routine procedures. In the patriarchal societies of China and India, where the preference for male children and the pressures to reduce family size are both very strong, abortions of female fetuses seem to be widespread. Although the use of technologies for sex selection is illegal in China, they are readily available even in rural areas. With a small bribe, parents can easily find out the sex of the embryo and abort it if it is female, thus ensuring that the only child allowed by the State's one-child-family law be a male.

In India too, sex-selective abortion is a thriving business. According to some estimates, between 1978 and 1983 alone, 78,000 female fetuses were aborted after sex-determination tests. Researchers have found that some poor districts in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat, which do not have basic services such as potable water and electricity, have clinics doing a flourishing business in prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex selection. Even poor farmers and landless laborers were willing to pay 25 percent compound interest on loans borrowed to pay for those tests. Given extreme social pressures to produce sons, many women, not only poor uneducated women, but also educated urban women are resorting to abortion of female fetuses. Some middle-class Indian women justify these actions on grounds of choice, and some medical doctors and intellectuals have also argued that it would prevent the suffering of women and that in the long run the shortage of women would lead to their improved status in society. Nurses seeking to meet their family-planning targets actively encourage "scanning" for sex determination and abortion of female fetuses. Some doctors also promote sex-selective abortion as an effective method of population control that would allow the Indian government to achieve its population-control targets.

Female infanticide and underreporting of girls are other factors contributing to the "missing women" phenomenon. The Chinese government has either denied or condemned the practice of female infanticide, but reliable data are not available. Female infanticide does have a long tradition in patriarchal societies such as China and India. But as the demographer Terrence Hull has noted, the "behavioral and emotional setting of infanticide in contemporary China" tends to be substantially different from the traditional pattern (Hull p. 73). The resurgence of infanticide since the early 1980s, is at least partly related to the pressures of the Chinese family-planning program, and the infants killed at birth have been overwhelmingly female. Most of the abandoned infants who end up in state-run orphanages are girls. Many of these girls, as well as boys, are subjected to starvation, torture, and sexual assault. Women's rights activist Viji Srinivasan, who has studied female infanticide among poor communities in Tamil Nadu, India, has also identified the "internalization of the small family norm" due to family-planning promotion as a source of female infanticide (pp. 53–56). Her study raises questions about the ethics of aggressive population control in highly patriarchal societies and underscores the need for economic empowerment and elevation of women's status.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Evolution to FerrocyanideFamily Planning - Origin And Evolution Of Family Planning, Family Planning In The Global South, The "second Contraceptive Revolution"