Exploring Causes of Female Foeticide
The general perception is that the cost of marriage and dowry has gone up and so daughters have become greater financial liabilities. The dowry system is invariably blamed. We are not convinced that dowry alone is the main cause of female foeticide. Families that are well-off and do not have to depend on dowry to augment their income are also opting for female foeticide. The real reason seems to be the high status of families with several sons and the low status of families with no sons. Another interesting factor for the preference for sons is that the prospect of migration of sons to, say the Gulf or western countries, is much higher for men than for women (except in special cases such as Kerala from where nurses go all over the world). In the eyes of the local community, a family with children abroad has a higher status and certainly a higher income level than non-migrant families. Globalisation is thus adding to the miseries of the girl child.Another excerpt from an article written by Tulsi Patel that discusses one of the key reasons for a girl child being considered a burden in Indian society - her marital value -:
In short, there are numerous causes for the spread of female foeticide and it will be unscientific to believe that dowry alone is the cause, as is the general perception. Nevertheless, our perception during the fieldwork did reveal that people are aware of the upward swing in dowry demand and the rising cost of marriage. Greed has increased in our society and numerous TV channels and endless advertisements increase this greed further.
[...] Many women opted for female foeticide not because they were heartless but because they were genuinely concerned about the molestation and sexual harassment and, after marriage, exposed to the risk of bride burning and dowry death, in the unending demand for dowry from our emerging consumerist society. This calls for a good look at gender issues in all their ramifications in our increasingly dysfunctional society. (Patel 86-7)
[The most immediate concern is the humbling sense a daughter's parents feel at her birth.] As an infant and toddler, a girl is like fine china, parents take care that she turns out fair and beautiful. The 'fragile' and 'handle with care' item in a china shop is to remain a desirable bride for prospective patrons. She belongs to another family and not where she is born. By corollary, any mishandling by the trustees (parents/stewards) is likely to reduce the chances for her making it big in the marriage market. Marriage being central to life for women in most parts of India, parents are seized with a daughter's marriage. Her home, her identity and her prestige come through her marriage and in turn permeate the prestige for her natal family and the conjugal one. In being raised as a preferable bride, things are easier for her and her folks. [...] It is in the cautious and careful vigil over a daughter, her sexuality and the training given to her to be affectionate, caring and responsible for her conjugal household members while being efficient and dexterous in household work, and if need be in taking up paid employment, that she is considered as having been raised with love and care.
In order that a daughter is desired as a marriage partner, her upbringing is accordingly fine tuned by the parents who then feel greatly relieved. [...] It is a humbling experience to arrange a match for her, let alone the economic drain the marriage can be for her family. [...] The sexuality of girls is closely guarded. She is likened to an earthen pot that should neither be dropped nor chipped. Unlike boys, girls are to be kept under a constant vigil. Wild girls are not good girls. [...] This is an additional task to be performed with more resources and enhanced sense of responsibility. It is a resource the family has to provide for until a girl is married off. [...] Such a vigil is necessitated more in urban areas and is increasingly needed in some rural areas and big towns as well. Sexual assault on unescorted girls and female children is on the rise, and is frequently reported in the media. (Patel 156-8)
Patel, T. (2007) Sex-Selective Abortion in India. New Delhi, India: Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd