How preference for sons in India encouraged a culture of violence against women

Subuhi Safvi
Subuhi SafviNov 14, 2018 | 11:41

How preference for sons in India encouraged a culture of violence against women

The Indian subcontinent’s preference for male child has seen many atrocities being committed against women over centuries.

The Economic Survey 2017-2018 said about 63 million women go missing from India’s population and that two million go ‘missing’ across age groups every year because of abortion of female foetuses, disease, neglect and inadequate nutrition.

It is time we realised why saving our girls is an emergency. (Source: Reuters)


India passed the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 in that made it illegal to disclose the sex of a foetus.

Though sex selective abortions are outlawed, however, the practice continues illegally around the country.

The National Crime Records Bureau data said between 2002 and 2012 there were 218 cases of medical practitioners performing ultrasounds with an intention to determine the sex of the foetus. Of these only 55 people were convicted, while 163 were acquitted.

In its report, Female Infanticide Worldwide said that India’s sex ratio at birth is still skewed with 112 boys for every 100 girls.

The girls, who escape female foeticide, fall prey to infanticide or neglect.

The Pneumonia and Diarrhoea Progress Report 2018 by the Johns Hopkins School and the International Vaccine Access Centre found major disparity between immunisation of boys and girls under the age of five. In India 78 girls were immunised for every 100 boys. This was not limited to rural areas; even urban slums showed a similar disparity between vaccinations for girls and boys.

In the year 2018, 1.36 million children around the world are projected to die of preventable illnesses most of which are concentrated in 15 countries, including India.


Though India improved the annual mortality rate of children below five years by 9 per cent, this improvement was better for boys than girls. The son preference in India has led to many girls being neglected by their families or abandoned entirely. Often, they are not given sufficient nutrition, not given the required vaccinations and not taken to medical practitioners when they fall ill.

The preference for male child has done irreparable harm to Indian society. (Source: Reuters)

The All India National Family Health Survey (NFHS) for 2015-2016 showed that when it came to illnesses boys were more likely to be treated in time. Boys were 11 per cent more likely to be breastfed among last born children. They were also 7 per cent more likely to be taken for treatment if they had diarrhoea than girls.

Boys were also more often taken for treatment for respiratory illnesses. It also showed that women who had a son were less likely to go for ultrasounds in comparison to those who did not.

Ultrasounds were also found to be more common in urban areas where women had 12 or more years of education. These statistics show that the preference for sons is not limited to people of weaker economic background; it is rather practised among all strata of society across India.


When these children grow up the gender ratio is worse. With far more men than women, there are fewer available for marriage.

Not too long back, men in Haryana, one of the worst states for the sex ratio, used to get wives from Kerala that has more women than men. These marriages often proved terrible for women who faced constant abuse.

The problem of not enough women to marry also led to many girls and women being trafficked to Haryana and Punjab. In some cases, women from poor families are brought to states like Haryana or Punjab with the promise of marriage. They are married to one man, often much older, and upon his death they are forced to marry another from the same village.

Sex determination happens on a large scale in India. (Source: Reuters/Photo for representation only)

China’s one-child policy led to the number of males outnumbering the females with 34 million more men than women. In India that number is 37 million, more than the population of several countries. China is now facing the repercussions of too many men as adults are unable to find wives. Many men from China are buying brides from neighbourhood countries like Cambodia, but just like India, most of these are not happy marriages. A foreign bride in China is not treated with respect. Often women are lured to China with the promise of jobs only to be forced to marry Chinese men.

India’s preference for son and the practice of aborting or neglecting girls has led to grave issues. However, even as these problems become obvious to us, foeticide continues.

Between 2001 and 2011, the sex ratio went from 927 girls for every 1,000 boys to 918 girls for every 1,000 boys.

The current government began a “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” programme across the country but the success of this has been limited.

China outlawed the practice of foot binding by getting men involved.

Similarly, in Africa, men and women are being educated to end the practice of female genital mutilation. Girls in India are entering schools and the workforce, becoming financially more independent and able to take care of their families.

This was not the case even a few decades ago.

Perhaps, India needs to begin educating its patriarchs to overcome their preference for a male child.

Last updated: November 14, 2018 | 20:21
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