SEX SELECTION IN CHINA AND INDIA
Valerie Lynn Goin
B.A., Metropolitan State College, 1989
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Valerie Lynn Goin
has been approved for the
1994 by Valerie Lynn Goin
All rights reserved.
Goin, Valerie Lynn (M.A., Political Science)
Sex Selection in China and India
Thesis directed by Professor Jana Everett
This thesis analyzes female infanticide, female neglect, sex-selective abortion
(female feticide), and sex pre-selection tests as methods of sex selection used to
systematically eliminate females. These forms of sex selection are part of the
much broader issue of social femicide. Following a discussion of the historical and
cultural contexts in which the devaluation of women and girls exists in China and
India, each method of sex selection is detailed in the current context. Other forms
of discrimination against females are discussed, and current debates and policy
implications regarding sex selection are explored. After presenting evidence of
widespread discrimination and devaluation of females, the thesis concludes with
the argument that reevaluating and revising cultural, ideological, political, and
economic structures might help to solve the issue of social femicide.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed OAi I. i/c ____________
M Jana Everett
I would like to thank Professor Jana Everett for her time, assistance, and
encouragement. I would like to thank the other members of my committee,
Professor Steve Thomas and Professor Mike Cummings, for their guidance and
help. I am grateful to Professor Hannah Kelminson for assisting me with the
format of my paper. Special thanks go to my sister, Janine Zydzik, for allowing
me to use her computer and for helping me with the typing, editing, and formatting
of the paper. Finally, I would like to thank my husband, Paul, and my son,
Matthew, for their patience and understanding during the hours I spent away from
them while I worked on my paper.
In this paper I attempt to present a concise analysis of female infanticide,
female neglect, sex-selective abortion (female feticide), and sex pre-selection tests
in relation to China and India. I discuss the historical and cultural contexts of
female infanticide and female neglect, and I discuss the existence of female
infanticide and female neglect in present-day China and India. I also discuss the
appearance of sex-selective abortion and the more recent sex pre-selection tests.
I feel that they are all forms of sex selection used against females in that they
represent various methods of choosing boys over girls as a result of the strong
preference for sons. This sex selection serves to devaluate daughters and
contributes to the discrimination of females.
Many of the works that I have obtained focus on a certain issue, such as
the historical context of female infanticide or the ethics of sex-selective abortion;
other works include more than one issue but focus on a certain aspect, such as
the skewed sex ratios resulting from female infanticide and female feticide or
female infanticide, female neglect, and female feticide as consequences of son
preference. I wanted to include in my paper all of the issues relating to sex
selection (female infanticide, female neglect, female feticide, and sex pre-selection
tests), and I try to discuss all aspects of these issues, such as son preference,
skewed sex ratios, dowry and betrothal gifts, patriarchal social systems, patrilineal
and patrilocal familial systems, violence against females, and the general
discrimination against, and devaluation of, women and girls. I feel that they are all
interrelated: with patriarchy comes patriliny and patrilocality, discrimination against
women and girls, and son preference; dowry and betrothal gifts emerge out of
patriliny and patrilocality; and daughter disdain and sex selection against girls are
a result of son preference. These are just a few examples of how the aspects
relate to each other.
My decision to write a paper on sex selection in China and India grew out
of my interests in international politics, the language and culture of other countries,
and womens issues. Although I am a United States citizen, my multi-ethnic
background has impelled me to seek to understand the language, culture, and
politics of other countries. I was born in the Philippine Islands and I have travelled
most of my life. My father was born and raised in the Philippines; he is of Filipino,
German, and American descent. My mother is of Spanish, French, Mexican, and
American Indian descent. I have tried to learn as many foreign languages as I
can; I have studied French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and
Chinese. And I try to travel to many places (as time and money allow).
Asian countries have always intrigued me, perhaps because of my Asian
background. Although I am writing a paper which focuses on negative aspects in
relation to China and India, I want to stress that China and India possess many
positive qualities, such as history, language, and culture, and I hope to travel to
China and India someday to see, in person, the beauty of the two countries and to
learn more about these positive qualities. The fact that I have never been to
China and India has limited me somewhat in my analysis of sex selection in
relation to these two countries. But I feel that my paper can shed some light and
foster discussions on the issue of sex selection, and I hope that my work will
contribute to the analysis of womens issues in general.
I. INTRODUCTION ..................................................... 1
Widespread Discrimination ........................................ 1
Scope of the Study................................................ 3
Theoretical Framework ............................................ 7
II. CHINA AND INDIA: HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXT ................ 11
Comparison of China and India.................................... 23
III. SEX SELECTION IN CHINA AND INDIA: THE CURRENT CONTEXT . 27
Population Policies: China ...................................... 28
Population Policies: India....................................... 33
Comparison of China and India.................................... 36
Female Infanticide.......................................... 37
Sex-Selective Abortion (Female Feticide).................... 42
Sex Pre-Selection Tests .................................... 47
Female Neglect.............................................. 48
Nutrition and healthcare ................................. 49
General neglect .......................................... 51
Education and employment.................................... 56
Mortality rate.............................................. 57
Sex Ratios .................................................... 58
Son Preference................................................. 58
IV. DEBATES AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS .................................... 62
China ......................................................... 63
Population Control............................................. 65
Balanced Family ............................................... 66
Population Improvement ........................................ 67
Women's Choice................................................. 69
Improvement in Womens Status ................................. 69
"Feticide" as Opposed to "Femicide" ........................... 71
Policy Implications ............................................... 72
Solutions ......................................................... 73
V. CONCLUSION................................................... 78
Widespread Discrimination .................................. 78
Summary .................................................... 80
Solutions .................................................. 81
WORKS CITED ...................................................... 86
Discrimination against women exists everywhere, at least in some form or
another. It can be social, cultural, religious, legal, economic, or all of the above.
And discrimination can take a more aggressive form in terms of violence against
women, such as rape, wife abuse, and murder. Horn (1992, 260 note 38)
indicates that all of these forms of discrimination are part of a much larger issue,
that of social femicide, a term used to "suggest the implication of an existing social
order in practices which result in the death and devaluation of female lives."1
Discrimination is not limited to adult females. In addition to being
victimized through rape and abuse, young females are discriminated against
because of a preference for sons which translates into the neglect of girls (I will
call this "female neglect") by means of less nourishment, less medical care, and
less education. Preference for sons can also lead to female infanticide. And now
technology makes available the means to discriminate, even before girls are born,
with sex-selective abortion, or female feticide, and with sex pre-selection tests.
Infanticide is the killing of a baby shortly after its birth. Fetal detection
tests, such as amniocentesis and ultrasound, are used to discover the sex of the
baby, and if the baby is not of the desired sex, it is aborted. Sex pre-selection is a
technique which allows the parents to determine the sex of the baby prior to
conception. Although infanticide, sex-selective abortion, and sex pre-selection can
be used against male babies, evidence shows that they are more frequently used
to eliminate female babies; infanticide is used to get rid of a baby girl after she is
born, and sex-selective abortion and sex pre-selection tests are used to prevent a
girl from being born. Hence, the terms female infanticide and female feticide. The
term "feticide" is somewhat controversial in that it implies that abortion is an
ethical issue. In my view a womans right to choose what to do with her body is
indisputable; however, an ethical issue arises when that right is used to eliminate
one sex, in this case, the female sex. For this reason I use the term "female
I would like to expand the definition of the term "female infanticide" to
include "female neglect" because neglect of baby girls frequently results in their
death. Horn (1992, 260 note 38) says that, as one of the consequences of son
preference, "female infanticide reflects the deadly impact for female children of the
value systems and preferences of patriarchal societies, and thus is a form of
social femicide." I would add that female feticide and sex pre-selection are also
forms of social femicide because they, too, are consequences of son preference. I
feel that female infanticide, female neglect, female feticide, and sex pre-selection
tests are all forms of sex selection, which is used to eliminate females or prevent
them from being born. This sex selection is yet another way to discriminate
against girls, which leads to their devaluation as adult women. It is in this context
that I would like to discuss the issues of female infanticide, female neglect, female
feticide, and sex pre-selection tests.
As I have stated, discrimination against women exists in almost every
country. Female infanticide, female neglect, and sex-selective abortion also exist
in many countries but seem to be most prevalent in Asia, specifically in China and
India. Whenever the issue of female infanticide is discussed, China and India are
almost always mentioned, and female feticide and sex pre-selection are widely
discussed topics in India. One of the main reasons that female infanticide and
female feticide are such hotly debated issues is that many fear what is occurring in
China and India comes frightfully close to being "gendercide," a term which refers
to "those wrongful forms of sexual discrimination which reduce the relative number
of females or males, whether through direct killing or in more indirect ways"
(Warren 1985, 1).2 The skewed sex ratios in both China and India give evidence
to those claims.
In China and India the female-to-male ratio is significantly disproportionate
compared to other countries. In the world as a whole the ratio is 99 females to
100 males, but in China it is 94 females to 100 males and in India, it is 93 females
to 100 ("Family Planning ..." 1992, 24). Given biologically equal birth rates this
anomaly means that millions of females are unaccounted for. It is reported that
100 million females are missing worldwide ("100 million missing women" 1992, 1);
in Asia alone, 60 million females are missing and feared dead ("100 Million
Women Missing" 1992, 80).
There are many similarities between China and India which may be linked
to the skewed sex ratios. Both countries have a population problem that the
governments are trying to control. China and India have a combined population of
more than two billion people ("Family Planning ..." 1992, 24). Both countries
have population policies: in China, there is a one-child per family policy, and in
India, people are encouraged to limit the number of offspring. The use of
contraception is promoted, as is sterilization, and abortion is legal. However,
studies indicate that the governments of both countries have been lax in their
population control programs, one reason being the preference for sons.
The majority of the population in both China and India lives in the rural
areas: in China 80 percent and in India 75 percent, figures that mean the majority
depends on agriculture for sustenance. Arranged marriages still exist, as does
patrilocal exogamy, in which the bride becomes part of the husbands family and
leaves her parents home to live with her in-laws in another village. In India the
practice of dowry continues (although it has been banned), and there is evidence
that bride price (also banned) is still practiced in some parts of China. Parents
feel that the daughter is an economic burden and is only a "temporary" child.
Conversely, a son will bring dowry into the family when he marries, and he will
take care of his parents financially when they are retired. And as the family name
can be carried on only by the son and ancestor worship carried out through the
male bloodline, parents feel the need to have at least one son. This traditional
preference for sons, along with the pressure to limit family size, is the main reason
that daughters are unwanted. I need hardly say that another similarity between
China and India is that both are patriarchal societies; most countries are.3 There
are variations of patriarchy, and some societies are "more patriarchal" than others;
but in general, patriarchy refers to social systems in which men control women
and dominate the political, economic, and social structures.
I originally set out to discuss just the issue of female infanticide, and I
could have written an entire book on the subject; indeed, many thought-provoking,
informative works have been devoted solely to the issue. But as I did my research
I discovered so many other topics related to female infanticide, such as female
neglect, female feticide, and sex pre-selection, that I felt I had to include them in
my paper because they relate directly to my thesis. Just as female infanticide is
an expression of the total devaluation of females, so, too, are female neglect,
female feticide, and sex pre-selection. A poor rural woman with no money and no
access to medical facilities might kill her baby daughter after she is born by
feeding her some poisonous berries; a middle-class urban woman might go to a
clinic for an amniocentesis and, after discovering that the fetus is a girl, might
have the fetus aborted; and in the near future, a couple just might go to a private
clinic and pre-select a boy by having the husbands sperm separated. The
methods are different, but the results are the same: a female is prevented from
living because son preference in some countries is so great.
Another point I must make is that, although I obtained quite a bit of
information on female infanticide, female neglect, female feticide and sex pre-
selection, a substantial portion of the literature gathered pertains to India. I was
somewhat limited in terms of current theoretical and statistical data on China.
However, the works that I have obtained on China are quite helpful and sufficient
for my purposes. In recent years the government of China has been more lenient
in allowing people to discuss subjects previously regarded as taboo. But the
government continues to deny to the outside world that certain problems exist,
while people in and out of China provide evidence to the contrary.
I would like to discuss the issues of female infanticide, female neglect,
female feticide, and sex pre-selection tests in relation to their impact on society in
general, and on China and India in particular. The questions I would like to pose,
and hopefully answer, are the following: Do female infanticide, female neglect,
and female feticide exist in China and India? Do they pose a problem? If so, how
serious a problem? What are the causes of female infanticide, female neglect,
and female feticide in China and India? Are efforts being made to eliminate them?
If so, how successful are the efforts? Is there a difference between abortion and
female feticide? Are women aborting female babies because it is their choice, or
is it a reluctant option based on centuries of social, cultural, and religious tenets
which indoctrinate people to believe that men are superior to women, that a son is
more valuable than a daughter, and that it is a womans duty to bear a son or risk
being beaten, killed, or terrorized into committing suicide by her husband and in-
laws? Are there ways to protect a womans right to choose without further
contributing to female feticide? How serious is the issue of sex pre-selection?
What implications do these sex pre-selection tests have for the future of females?
Would the banning of sex pre-selection tests solve the issue of gender
preference? Would the elimination of female infanticide and female feticide solve
the much larger issue of social femicide?
In Chapter II I will discuss the historical and cultural contexts in which the
devaluation of women and girls exists in China and India, and I will present
similarities and differences between the two countries. In Chapter III I will discuss
in detail the "reemergence" of female infanticide and female neglect, and I will
discuss the new technologies sex-selective abortion and sex pre-selection tests
- and the impact they have had on China and India. I will also discuss other
forms of female devaluation, such as dowry and bride price, discrimination against
females in education and employment, and son preference. I will present
evidence supporting my theory that female infanticide, female neglect, and female
feticide are direct causes of the skewed sex ratios in China and India and that
they, along with sex pre-selection tests, are methods of sex selection which
contribute to the problem of social femicide. Chapter IV will comprise the debates
and policy implications in regard to the issue, and I will discuss the social
movements formed specifically to combat female infanticide, female neglect,
female feticide, and sex pre-selection. And Chapter V will be the conclusion in
which I will summarize and assess the possible solutions to the issue.
I am writing this from a feminist perspective, which does not imply that I
have a bias. On the contrary, I feel that I have reached this viewpoint after many
years of objective study and personal experience. In my opinion a feminist is a
person (female or male) who believes that women everywhere, since the
beginning of civilization, have been discriminated against because of their sex and
have been treated as though they were inferior to men intellectually, physically,
and emotionally. I agree with Warren (1985), who says that feminists "do not seek
to replace male domination with female domination, but to achieve equal rights
and equal justice for persons of both sexes" (3). Patriarchal societies tend to
foster inequality, violence and destruction (of animals and the environment as well
as of human beings), and we need to revise them to be more humanistic and
tolerant of diversity. I concur with Holmes and Hoskins (1987) that the term
patriarchal does not necessarily mean male; "there are patriarchal women, and
non-patriarchal men" (23).
Finally, I would like to say that I do not want to portray myself as a
"Western liberal feminist" studying the "oppression" of "Third World women"4 and
trying to find solutions to "their problems"; I am simply a person trying to
understand why female infanticide, female neglect, and female feticide occur and
why they are prevalent in China and India and what women (and men) in China
and India are doing about it. I feel that it is important to address these issues
because they "need to be reconceptualized as part of a sphere of violence against
women globally" and "this violence against women is a crime of gender, social
femicide, that is the practice of destroying, killing, and diminishing female lives"
(Horn 1992, 276). The cases of China and India reflect the attitude toward women
globally, and studying the issues in the two countries might help us find solutions
to the issue of social femicide. I agree with Horn (1992), who says that "[b]y
acknowledging the global dimensions of the violence, the human costs of
patriarchal ideology and institutions become clearly not limited to any particular
culturally specific context" (276).
1Hom discusses social femicide in her article on female infanticide in China
and says that "the pattern and existence of violence against women and female
infants in China is not a problem unique to Chinese society or culture. Crimes of
gender and cultural practices which have an adverse, and often deadly impact on
women are present across all cultures and socio-economic groups" (250). Sharon
K. Horn, "Female Infanticide in China: The Human Rights Specter and Thoughts
Towards (An)other Vision," Columbia Human Rights Law Review 23 (Summer
zl have also heard the term "gynicide," referring to the indirect or direct
elimination of specifically females.
According to Holmes and Hoskins, "[a]ll current forms of government are
patriarchal: they foster competitiveness and have hierarchies of power and
privilege; masculine traits, such as aggressiveness, are rewarded. Feminine
qualities, such as compassion and co-operation, are disparaged. The earth, seen
as feminine, is exploited" (23). Helen B. Holmes and Betty B. Hoskins, "Prenatal
and preconception sex choice technologies: a path to femicide?" Chapter 1 in
Gena Corea et al., Man-Made Women (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana
University Press, 1987): 15-29.
4I use the term "Third World" as opposed to "developing" because
"developing" implies to me that the countries in question are "backward," which I
think is extremely ethnocentric. Moreover, I do not use the term "Third World
women" to mean that the women from these countries have the same historical,
cultural, and political experiences, nor do I use it to distinguish color or racial
identifications; I use the term to describe women from these countries as having a
"common context of struggle," to use Mohantys phrase, in that these women are
from countries that have achieved independence after years of imperialist rule,
which has had (understandably) an adverse impact economically. Mohanty says
that "we must be able and willing to theorize and engage in the feminist politics of
third world women, for these are the very understandings we need to respond
seriously to the challenges of race and our post-colonial condition" (39-40).
Chandra T. Mohanty et al., eds., Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism
(Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991).
CHINA AND INDIA:
HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXT
Infanticide has been practiced since the beginning of history. In Sparta the
adults killed deformed or diseased children for the purpose of securing strong,
healthy warriors. Amongst the Sabines, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, and
the Canaanites infanticide took on a sacrificial form (Panigrahi 1972, 1). Miller
(1981) says that systematic infanticide has been practiced among the Eskimos
and in Europe, Japan, and the South Seas (36). Warren says that female
infanticide and the "selective neglect, abuse, or abandonment of female children
have been common occurrences in most historical eras" (1985, 15). In the Arab
world female infanticide was prevalent from prehistoric times to the nineteenth
century, for Arab men regarded the birth of a daughter as a "humiliating calamity"
(Warren 1985, 35). And female infanticide was practiced in China and in India,
the two countries most often mentioned when the issue of female infanticide is
Why are China and India so infamous for having such a long history of
female infanticide? Both countries are known for being patriarchal,1 for having a
preference for sons (a trait which often accompanies patriarchy), and for treating
women like chattel. But most countries have possessed these qualities. So what
distinguishes China and India from those countries who did not resort to infanticide
for extended periods of time? A brief look at the religious, cultural, and ideological
histories2 of China and India may provide some insight.
Female infanticide existed in China as early as 2000 B.C.E.3 Scholars
generally agree that female infanticide has always existed in China to some extent
(Jimmerson 1990, 49). References to infanticide can be found in writings
throughout Chinas history, and accounts of infanticide are present in popular
Chinese literature (Jimmerson 1990, 51). Jimmerson (1990) says that the people
of Fujian practiced a custom called "cleaning the infant," where newborns were
drowned in a dish of water (51). According to Lee (1981), the people of the
province of Jianxi killed all newborn girls (166).
The abandonment and neglect of girls was also quite common. Lee (1981)
says that families in cities such as Hangzhou preferred to abandon unwanted
babies; in 1138 the court prohibited abandonment and gave an order to set up
foundling hospitals (166). Croll (1985, 11) and Jimmerson (1990, 51) say that girls
suffered a disproportionate degree of malnutrition and illness because they were
given less food and medical care.
In addition to infanticide and neglect, female children suffered various
forms of abuse. Girls were sold into slavery or prostitution (Jimmerson 1990) and
as child brides (Croll 1985). Warren says female children were often "given to
other families to be reared as wives for the latters sons" (1985, 35). Girls were
also subjected to the brutal custom of footbinding, the use of "artificial means to
stunt the normal growth of womens feet and render them unnatural in shape and
smallness" (Drucker 1981, 179), a practice which served to cripple and partially
immobilize females for the rest of their lives.
Sex ratio figures seem to indicate that males outnumbered females in many
parts of China. Croll says that one local study of a village in the late 1800s/early
1900s revealed that "in the first five years of life the number of boys outweighed
the girls in proportion of 100 to 35" (1985, 11). Croll says that this ratio was
undoubtedly an exceptional situation and that, without accurate data on sex ratios
at birth, it is difficult to gauge the scale of female infanticide (11). In the 1870s a
missionary and naturalist named Adele Fielde sought to determine the extent of
female infanticide in China. She interviewed forty women who had given birth to a
total of 183 sons and 175 daughters. "Of the sons, 126 had lived to be over ten
years old, while only 53 of the daughters had survived to that age; 78 of the
daughters had been deliberately destroyed" (Warren 1985, 36). Lee reports that
the sex ratio statistics for the period 1776-1850 "give the impression that males
outnumbered females in certain prefectures or counties in Zhili, Shandong, Shenxi,
Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Guangxi, Yunnan and Sichuan" (1981, 167). Based on
statistics from Beijing in 1917 the female mortality rate for the first year of life was
30 percent higher than the male mortality rate, and for the ages of one to five the
rate was 152 per 1000 compared to 122 per 1000 for males. "So," says Croll, "in
this case the supposition of neglect is strong" (1985, 11). Jimmerson says that,
for the period 1851-1948, "the mortality rate for males was two and one-half
percent, whereas that of females was five percent" (1990, 51).
Preference for sons was the main reason that daughters were not wanted.
A son would inherit the family name and perform the ritual sacrifices to the
ancestors (Warren 1985, 35). In the rural areas a boy would perform the heavy
labor required in most agricultural work (Jimmerson 1990, 52). And a son would
live in the parental household after marriage and support the older generation
(Croll 1985, 11). A daughter, on the other hand, was considered costly. A
daughter was only a "temporary" child; she married into another family, and her
labor was lost. A girl had to have her feet bound (if there was ever any prospect
for a "good" marriage), which further undercut her labor capacities (Jimmerson
1990, 52). And when a daughter married, her parents were required to give
The status of women in China was universally low. The subordination of
women to men "was inherent in the patrilineal and patrilocal nature of the family
and in the broader kinship system that allocated status and authority" (Johnson
1980, 62). The Confucian dictum that men are superior to women (Honig and
Hershatter 1988, 274) demanded of women "complete obedience to father,
husband, and son" (Moen 1991, 236). Women had no property ownership rights,
whereas the men "could, and frequently did, exchange their female kin for money,
whether in marriage, adoption, or sale into slavery or prostitution" (Gates 1989,
799). Marriages were arranged by family heads, and often the bride-to-be was an
adolescent. The grooms family often paid a "body price" to the brides family, "in
effect buying the young woman as a chattel and reimbursing her natal family for
the expense of raising her" (Johnson 1980, 63). Johnson says that marriage was
more a "contract between the families, transferring the woman to the husbands
family for the purpose of bearing male heirs for the patrilineal family and
performing necessary domestic work" (63). The woman was totally dependent on
the family economically, and she often suffered frequent beatings by the in-laws as
well as by the husband. Law and custom made it difficult for a woman to obtain a
divorce. And Johnson says that "remarriage of widows was not uncommon,
although it was frowned upon" (63).
While the devaluation of women was considered the norm for Chinese
society, female infanticide was not. Horn says historically, infanticide was viewed
as a crime "although there appears to be very little evidence of actual criminal
punishments imposed" (1992, 255 note 22). According to Horn (1992) and
Jimmerson (1990), infanticide was punishable by law during the Qin dynasty (221-
207 B.C.E.), the Han dynasty (202 B.C.E.-220 C.E.), the Southern Sung (1133
C.E.), and Yuan (1279-1368 C.E.).
The practice of infanticide in China was "discovered" by foreigners during
the 1600s. Warren says Jesuit missionaries reported in the seventeenth century
that in Beijing thousands of babies were thrown out in the streets "like refuse, to
be collected each morning by carriers who dumped them into a large pit outside
the city" (1985, 36). Jimmerson gives a similar account of reports by missionaries
and Western businessmen during the nineteenth century: "in the city of Beijing the
police sent carts around in the early morning to pick up the bodies of infants who
had been left out during the night. They were then brought to a large pit outside
the city walls for common burial" (1990, 51). Lee (1981) says that it was the
missionaries, traders, and diplomats during the nineteenth century who
emphasized the practice of infanticide in their writings, and that it was a common
topic of discussion among the foreigners. During the early 1900s the Nationalist
Government issued a number of regulations specifically forbidding the practice.
After the Revolution of 1949 the Communist government included in the Marriage
Law of 1950 a provision that "Infanticide by drowning and similar criminal acts are
strictly prohibited" (177).
In addition to the prohibition of infanticide the Communist government
declared, via Mao Zedong, that "Women hold up half the sky." The 1950 Marriage
Law gave women the right to divorce and established a new marriage system
based on "free choice and equal rights" (Chang 1988). The Marriage Law,
according to Johnson (1980), "was aimed at directly subverting the authoritarian
age and sex hierarchy of the family by abolishing the system of arranged buying
and selling marriage, prohibiting child betrothal, concubinage, polygamy, and
interference in the remarriage of widows" (67). It was necessary to dismantle the
old "feudal" marriage system, which had kept women "oppressed and abused" for
thousands of years, so that women in the Peoples Republic of China could enjoy
"equal rights with men in all spheres of life, political, economic, cultural and social,
including family life" (Chang 1988, 250).
Female infanticide has existed in India for centuries, but an exact date of
its emergence is not known.4 Saxena (1975) says infanticide was not prevalent
during the Vedic times (vii), and Upadhyay says that a daughters birth "was not a
source of consternation to the family in the Vedic and Upanishadic ages" (1991,
17). So infanticide must have commenced after the Upanishadic period, which
was 600-300 B.C.E., but how long afterward is uncertain. Patel says India has a
tradition of killing female babies (the custom of Dudhapiti) by putting opium on the
mothers breast and feeding the baby, by suffocating her in a rug, or by wrapping
the babys face in the afterbirth (1989b, 114). Warren reports that many tribes,
such as the Rajputs and the Jharejas, "killed virtually all female infants at birth"
Neglect of female children seems to have taken place as well. Kishwar
says that this form of neglect involved a "very systematic discrimination in food
allocation and other necessities for survival" (1987, 32). Bardhan (1982) says that
neglect of girls also included lack of medical treatment in times of illness. And
according to Upadhyay, from about 200 C.E. child marriage became a widespread
practice (1991, 40).
Sex ratio statistics indicate that there was a preponderance of males in
certain regions of India mostly the northern part of the country. Jeffrey, Jeffrey,
and Lyon (1984) report that in the Bijnor district, of 88 Jat villages, the total
population was almost 14,000 and the sex ratio among minors was 310 girls per
1000 boys (1207). Panigrahi (1972) says that in 28 villages of Azamgarh, there
were 37 girls to 339 boys under the age of six; in eleven villages, there were no
girls under six years old, and in eight villages, there were no girls at all (25). She
says that in some villages there were no girls at all and no marriages of girls had
taken place for the last 25 to 50 years, and among the Harra Rajputs no
marriages of girls had taken place for over 200 years (24). A census of the
Jahreja population in 1839 showed 335 girls to 2,625 boys (Panigrahi 1972, 42).
Kiswar says that "India has recorded substantially fewer females than males in the
population ever since the first modern census was taken in 1872" (1987, 31). In
the General Report (1872:13) there were 98 million males and 92 million females
yielding a sex ratio of 106.4 males per 100 females; the adult sex ratio was 101.0
males per 100 females, and the juvenile sex ratio (children under the age of
twelve) was 114.8 males to 100 females (Miller 1981, 70-71). In the 1901 census
there were 972 females per 1000 males (Ramachandran 1992, 61).
Pride and son preference seem to be the reasons for the prevalence of
female infanticide. "The acute preference for sons and viewing the birth of
daughters as a curse has a long history in India" says Kishwar (1987, 31). A son
was necessary to perform the funeral rights for the well-being of the ancestors,
and the family line could only be perpetuated through males (Evans 1983, 194).
Panigrahi (1972) says "[p]ride, poverty, contempt of the female sex, rigidity of the
caste system and difficulties in finding suitable bridegrooms seem to have
contributed towards the commission of the crime" (xii); [t]he roots of the evil lay
deep in the institutions of caste and marriage" (2). Warren says that many tribes
viewed the killing of female infants at birth "as essential to their pride and social
status" (1985, 36). Saxena (1975) says that female infanticide occurred due to a
"fear that daughters would not get married at an early age which would bring
dishonor and disgrace" (8); "whenever and wherever there appeared no
reasonable prospect of contracting suitable marriages for daughters on account of
superficial motives of pride and superiority or the parents were not in a position to
defray the nuptial expenses, . there and then a resort to infanticide was made"
(12). According to Gorman-Stapleton, the high cost of dowries was a reason for
not wanting daughters (1990, 26). Miller (1981) says
As a result of the financial burden of marrying off a daughter on one
hand and the unbearable shame and danger of having an
unmarried nubile daughter still at home on the other, families chose
to murder these troublesome creatures at birth (56).
After the Vedic period, Indian women became increasingly devalued. "The
cultural notion that a womans role is only supportive has to be traced to patrilineal
descent and patrilocal residence" (the Indian Council of Social Science Research
[hereafter "Council"] 1975, 19). "The well-known dictum of Manu along with
Tulsidas reveals that a woman should be kept under control" (Upadhyay 1991,
41). Ramachandran (1992) says the Hindu code of Manu "aptly demonstrates the
patriarchal way of thinking. In childhood, a woman must be subject to her father;
in youth, to her husband; when her husband is dead, to her sons. A woman must
never be free of subjugation (Salamon 39)" (61). Evans says that in the Hindu
tradition, the dominant purpose of marriage was to produce male offspring (1983,
194). Marriage signified the transfer of a woman from her natal group to that of
her husband (Council 1975, 20). Marriages were arranged, and usually the bride
was a young girl, who was placed under severe restrictions and had little or no
say in decision-making. Upadhyay says that after 200 C.E. evidence of the
beginning of the dowry system is found (1991, 40). Miller says the necessity of
giving large dowries and the practice of hypergamy were the main elements of the
traditional marriage system (1981, 56). Upadhyay says that during the medieval
period, the position of Hindu women deteriorated; purdah, or the seclusion of
women, came into existence, "by which from puberty to old age women were
carefully screened from the sight of all men but their husbands and class relatives"
(1991, 41). Also during the medieval period limitations were put on widows.
Warren says although girls were sometimes married while still children, sometimes
to men old enough to be their grandfathers, it was regarded as shameful for a
woman to remain alive after the death of her husband; widows were responsible
for their husbands deaths; if they had done nothing wrong in their present life,
they were presumed to have misbehaved in some previous life (1985, 45). The
Brahma Purana recommends that "it was the highest duty of woman to immolate
herself after her husband'; "[t]hus," concludes Upadhyay, "in post-Vedic India,
Hindu women became completely subordinate to her husband. She was born,
lived, and died for her husband" (1991, 42).
There were several people who were against the traditional treatment of
women. Upadhyay (1991) discusses several men Indian elite with an English
education who had been influenced by eighteenth century western liberal ideology
- who were in favor of social reform to enhance the status of women. Raja Ram
Mohan Roy, the first social reformer in the 19th century, "raised his voice against
the prevailing religious and social maladies affecting the conditions of woman"
(43). It was he who pointed out that the ancient Hindu scriptures did not prescribe
sati (widow self-immolation), and he was also in favor of granting the right of
property to women and changing the inheritance laws in order to improve the lot of
widows (43-44). Mahadev Govind Ranade of Maharashtra directed his efforts
towards the abolition of child marriage, the acceptance of widow remarriage, and
education for females (44). Behramji Malbari of Bombay was against child
marriage; he felt that laws should be passed prohibiting marriage below the age of
twelve. He also opposed the horrible treatment of widows, and was in favor of
The British "discovered" the prevalence of female infanticide while India
was under their rule, and they took several measures to abolish the practice.
Miller says reports of villages without even one female child increased until finally
the British began to take an interest (1981, 51). In 1846 John Lawrence
discovered the practice among the Bedis in his division. According to him, "there
was not a girl among 2,000 Bedi families" (Panigrahi 1972, 25). The British
resorted to a variety of measures in the attempt to induce people to
keep their daughters alive. There were conferences held on the
evils of infanticide, establishment of dowry funds with government
money to help fathers pay for the marriages of daughters they
preserved, threats of imprisonment and fines, and friendly cajoling
(Miller 1981, 52).
Kishwar says that infanticide
was made a collective offense punishable with collective fines
imposed on each village where the sex ratio indicated a very high
deficit of females, the so-called blood-red villages. The imposition
of collective fines had a quick effect. . female infanticide began to
diminish (1987, 31).
Panigrahi (1972) says that female infanticide was "effectively suppressed by the
British government towards the end of the nineteenth century" (xi).
In addition to the Act of 1795 prohibiting infanticide, many others were
enacted to improve the status of women. Upadhyay discusses Act III of 1872:
early marriages were abolished, polygamy was made penal, and widow remarriage
was sanctioned (1991, 46). Warren (1985) says that sati was banished in 1829
(45). The legalization of widow remarriage in 1856 and the Age of Consent (for
marriage) Act in 1891 were other laws the British created on behalf of womens
rights (Caiman 1992, 149 and 163 note 3). After Independence, women were
immediately granted legal equality. Mahatma Gandhi believed that the freedom
movement would be meaningless "without upliftment of the weaker section,
namely, the women and the lower strata to a position of equality with others . .
he declared himself to be uncompromising in the matter of womens rights."
(Upadhyay 1991, 18). Several Acts were passed after Independence to improve
the rights of women: the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act,
1955, and the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Everett (1979) says
The Indian Constitution guarantees equality of the sexes, there is
much legislation concerning female employment, including equal
pay provisions and maternity benefits, and there is legislation
reforming Hindu Law so that women have equal inheritance rights
So Indian women, after centuries of oppression, had finally achieved equal rights.
Comparison of China and India
Although China and India have different cultural, religious, and ideological
histories, they seem to share several common factors in regard to the historical
status of females in their countries. Both countries are situated on the continent of
Asia China in East Asia and India in South Asia. In both countries female
infanticide was practiced for centuries, as was female neglect. While reports
indicating that certain villages did not contain a single daughter or that certain
tribes killed all female infants at birth seem exaggerated and therefore suspect,
the sex ratios seem to indicate that there was a preponderance of males. There
was a social system of patriarchy, and a familial system of patrilocality and
patriliny.s Both countries shared a preference for sons, who were important in
carrying on the family name, performing ancestor worship, and taking care of their
parents in old age. Arranged marriages of extremely young girls were quite
common, and dowry and bride price (body price)6 were major components of the
marriage system and seemed to affect negatively the parents attitude toward
daughters. Women had an extremely low status; they were subordinate to men in
every aspect. Ancient dicta from Confucius in China and Manu in India enforced
womens inferiority to men. After marriage, the wife occupied the lowest rung on
the family hierarchy; only after she produced a son did her status improve
(somewhat). Conversely, if she did not produce a son, she risked getting beaten
by her husband and in-laws. Both countries had traditions which served to keep
women within the confines of the home: in China, footbinding greatly impeded
womens physical movements, and in India, the practice of purdah prevented
women from going out in public view of men. Widows were treated with disdain
(moreso in India), and the remarriage of widows was frowned upon in China and
not permitted in India.
In both countries female infanticide was "discovered by outside sources:
in China, the foreign missionaries, businessmen, and diplomats, and in India, the
ruling British. China outlawed infanticide in the early 1900s; India, in the late
1800s. Both countries endured serious political struggles in the late 19th and early
20th centuries, culminating in major political, cultural, and ideological changes in
the late 1940s: China experienced the Revolution of 1949, resulting in a
communist political system, and India gained independence from Great Britain,
establishing a republic. After these major socio-political movements, the newly-
established governments, along with their ideological leaders (Mao Zedong in
China and Jawaharlal Nehru in India), declared that women were on an equal
social, legal, and political basis with men. Both China and India, immediately
following the Revolution and Independence, respectively, enforced legal provisions
in their constitutions guaranteeing equal rights for women. However, in the
following chapter we will see that women are equal, for the most part, on paper
only. Many of the provisions are not enforced, or they are simply ignored. The
governments of China and India tend to put womens issues on the back burner if
they do not coincide with what the governments feel are more "important"
1Upadhyay says "[a] lot of evidence offered by different sources suggests
that women were the rulers and the system of matriarchy prevailed before 400
B.C. in different parts of the continent" (39). But Warren says today there are no
known matriarchal societies (14). H.C. Upadhyay, Status of Women in India
(Volumes 1 and 2) (New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 1991); and Mary Anne
Warren, Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman
and Allanheld, 1985).
2For the purposes of space (as I would like to devote more to the current
issues affecting China and India), I will only present brief histories of China and
India, digesting the major issues and events affecting the status of women in the
historical context. If the summaries seem to have wide gaps in the chronological
sequence, I apologize; it was an inevitable consequence of the editing process.
3I have chosen to use B.C.E. ("Before Common Era") and C.E. ("Common
Era") instead of B.C. ("before Christ") and A.D. ("anno Domini").
4I could not find any information on the exact date that female infanticide
commenced in India.
sThere are some societies which are matrilineal and matrilocal, although
the authority still rests with the men in the womans family (Council, 18), and while
matriliny and matrilocality tend to increase the perceived value of women, they do
not lead to matriarchy, according to Warren (14). Warren cites Scottish
anthropologist John McLennan, who "hypothesized that female infanticide and
marriage by capture were the key parts of the process by which patriliny and
patrilocality replaced the matrilineal and matrilocal family structures which, he
argued, must have originally existed in all human societies" (35). The Indian
Council of Social Science Research, Status of Women in India: A Synopsis of the
Report of the National Committee on the Status of Women (1971-74) (New Delhi:
Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1975); and Mary Anne Warren, Gendercide: The
Implications of Sex Selection (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Allanheld, 1985).
6lt would seem that, logically, bride price (or body price) should be the
direct opposite of dowry, since both consist of the giving of money and gifts to
either the brides, or grooms, family. But both customs have negative
connotations for females; it seems that dowry is demanded by the groom and the
grooms family as payment for "accepting" the bride-to-be, and "body price" is
given to the brides family as if the groom is buying a piece of equipment, in
essence, both dowry and bride price serve to perpetuate the notion that the bride
is an object in a transaction between families.
SEX SELECTION IN CHINA AND INDIA:
THE CURRENT CONTEXT
The headlines in the media during the early 1990s pronounced "Surge In
Girl Baby-Killing" (Chicago Tribune 1990); "A Mystery From Chinas Census:
Where Have The Young Girls Gone?" (New York Times 1991); and "Female
Infanticide Is Still Practiced In India" (Cable News Network 1992). These reports
seemed to indicate that female infanticide and female neglect had not
disappeared. The governments of China and India had proclaimed for decades
that they had successfully abolished female infanticide. So why was there a re-
focus on the issue throughout the 1980s and early 1990s? Evidence from both
countries indicated that female infanticide had publicly reemerged; in fact, it had
not really disappeared at all. Several incidences of female infanticide were
reported, and sex ratios indicated that millions of females who were supposed to
exist didnt. And there were reports that sex-selective abortion was used to
eliminate female fetuses, further diminishing the number of females. So why had
female infanticide become an issue again? It seems that the governments of
China and India, worried that the burgeoning populations would put their countries
at economic risk, implemented population control programs which enhanced
societys preference for sons, and put females, once again, at risk. Market forces
in China seem to have exacerbated the relative subordinate status of women by
reprivatizing their labor back into the patriarchal family, and the spread of
commercialization in India has forced women to work in areas for which they are
not compensated very well. Chinese and Indian women, although guaranteed
equal rights in their constitutions, are not treated as though they are on an equal
basis with men. Discrimination continues to exist, against adult women and girl
Population Policies: China
During the tenure of Mao Zedong Chinese women were exhorted to have
as many children as possible (Chang 1988, 257). Mao believed that China could
support an unlimited number of people (Mirsky 1983, 12), and he thought that the
only advantage China had over its enemies was its huge population (Chang 1988,
257). As a result the Chinese population more than doubled during the course of
thirty years an increase of 300 million people (Chang 1988; and Mirsky 1983).
"Maos belief that in a socialist society there can never be too many people, had
lead [sic] to a situation where Chinese were on the verge of starving to death"
(Mirsky 1986, 19); that the government had been able to "keep the nations more
than one billion people from starving has amazed demographers for years"
(Wasserstrom 1984, 348).
After Maos death the government, realizing that there was little chance
that the country could support the ever-increasing population, no longer
encouraged reproduction. With a population of 1.8 billion people living in a
country with only seven percent arable land, and with twenty million youths a year
reaching marriageable age (Beijing Review 1983, 7:21; cited in Wasserstrom
1984, 348), the state realized that, unless the population could be levelled off and
subsequently reduced, catastrophe was inevitable (Mirsky 198G, 19). The
government decided to take drastic steps and instituted a population control policy.
In 1979, the Party introduced the one-child per family policy as part of a
Family Planning Law. It was never formally enacted because of a lack of
consensus on some of its provisions. Although there is no uniform law controlling
the number of children a couple may have, "the one-child policy is the central
theme to a series of guidelines that the central government has been
communicating to provinces and municipalities since 1979" (Jimmerson 1990, 63).
Wasserstrom says that the authorities "have tried to sweeten the prospect of
having only a single child with a combination of remunerative and normative
rewards" (1984, 346). Incentives have included cash bonuses, longer maternity
leave, and benefits for the only child which include free health care, grain rations,
and free child care and kindergarten facilities (Jimmerson 1990, 63). Abortion is
legal, and birth control and sterilization are encouraged. Chang says that the
methods employed by the government to enforce its population policy "combine
both blandishments and coercion" (1988, 257). Education and propaganda are
pursued to change the attitudes and values of the people. Wasserstrom says that
the one-child campaign has met with much success (1984, 346). But despite its
success, the policy has been criticized by many, because not only does the
government use positive methods to ensure that the one-child per family rule is
enforced, it has "resorted to an assortment of draconian population control
measures unparalleled in the contemporary world" (Chang 1988, 257).
One of the major criticisms of the one-child policy is that it is aimed directly
at women, who are expected to conform "without regard for their individual
disposition or well-being" (Chang 1988, 251). Horn (1992) says that "Chinas
leadership and its ruling party are overwhelmingly dominated by elderly patriarchs"
(274), so the population policy is directed at women, without any regard for their
health, safety, and well-being. Mirsky says Chinas Communist party has always
yielded to patriarchal values in the area of policy formation (1986, 19).1 Some of
the methods employed by the government include the involuntary insertion of
intrauterine devices (lUDs), compulsory sterilization, forced abortion, and
infanticide (Chang 1988, 257). Horn says lUDs are immediately inserted after
abortions or birth, which result in higher risks of infection and expulsion (1992,
274-275). There is also a preference for female sterilization,2 which presents a
greater health risk than male sterilization (i.e. vasectomies). But families prefer to
sterilize women "because they value men and do not want to put them at risk"
(Dalsimer and Nisonoff 1987, 596). Rowland says that female sterilization is more
frequent, as "men equate vasectomy with castration" (1987, 83).
Mirsky says that couples must ask the partys permission to conceive; party
cadres "maintain tight surveillance so that unauthorized pregnancies can be
detected. Women must display their sanitary napkins on demand, for example, to
show they arent pregnant" (1983, 12). Women who manage to elude the
authorities and become pregnant without permission are forced to have an
abortion, sometimes even when they are in the last trimester of pregnancy. Some
of the ploys used to induce women to have an abortion are peer pressure,
incessant harassment, heavy fines, and dismissal from jobs. "Additionally, there
have been eyewitness reports of abortion posses, rounding up women in rice
paddies, handcuffing, and trussing them to operating tables" (Chang 1988, 259).
Newspapers in Guangdong Province "reported that 50,000 women who were
pregnant without permission had been kidnapped on party orders and forced to
have abortions" (Mirsky 1983, 13). Chang (1988) says that there is evidence that
the population control policy has an even more disturbing side: doctors are
practicing infanticide in the name of population control (260). Doctors, medical
students, and patients have reported that "doctors routinely would smash the
babys skull with forceps as it emerges from the womb. In some cases, the
newborns are killed by injecting formaldehyde into the soft spot of the cranium"
(260). The reason: doctors are under pressure to limit the number of babies born
or they risk losing their jobs (Jimmerson 1990, 174).
Another policy which emerged around the same time as the one-child
policy is the family responsibility system, where families "are assigned
responsibility for cultivating particular strips of fields" (Dalsimer and Nisonoff 1987,
587). A closely related new agricultural policy is the expansion of private family
gardens plots, where families can raise vegetables and cash crops and sell them
on the open market (587). These policies have "tightened the bonds of the
traditional family in which, once more, husbands, fathers, and fathers-in-law rule"
(Mirsky 1986, 20). Dalsimer and Nisonoff say that the new agricultural labor
practices "reprivatize a womans labor back into the patriarchal family" (1987,
591). Robinson (1985) says that "contemporary political and economic decisions
have reinforced sex inequality in China" (32).
As a result of the one-child and agricultural policies, son preference and
female infanticide have publicly resurfaced. Davin says [t]he number of sons a
peasant couple wants is negotiable but the desire for a minimum of one boy ... is
unwavering" (1985, 41). So if the one baby that a couple has is a girl, she is
killed, in hopes that the next baby will be a boy. Boys contribute more to family
farming and thus, to family income; so if couples have to limit themselves to only
one child, they are going to make certain the child is a boy. Chang says [o]n the
one hand, the government insists that the Chinese are permitted to have only one
child. On the other hand, other government initiatives (or lack thereof) make it
imperative that this only child be male" (1988, 262). Mirsky says the dramatic
reappearance of female infanticide after 1979 "is a measure of the determination
of Chinese parents to fulfil their one supreme responsibility: to bear a son" (1986,
Population Policies: India
India was the first country in the world to accept fertility regulation as a
national policy (Karkal 1986, 13). The First Five Year Plan was drafted soon after
Independence to improve the health and welfare of women and children. But the
census figures of 1961 "were a jolt to population planners. The population had
grown far beyond all projected figures" (13). It was believed that the distribution of
contraceptive methods was not effective in reducing the birth rate (Karkal 1991,
224). In 1965 the country experienced a nationwide famine, and the following
year, a shortage of rain which brought on a serious food crisis.
In its anxiety to reduce the population, the government drafted the Fourth
Five Year Plan (1966-71); there was a clear shift from a program of health and
welfare to one of population control (Karkal 1986, 13). The program became
"target oriented" and time-bound, and the major victims of this approach were
women, the tribals, and the weaker sections of the population (14). The program
was launched through the use of mass camps (mobile units used to perform
sterilization services to large numbers of people). At first, vasectomies were
performed, but soon the focus shifted from the sterilization of men to the
sterilization of women. So the "vasectomy camps" were soon replaced by
"tubectomy camps" (14). The achievements of the population control program
were due to what came to be informally called "coercive persuasion" (Karkal 1991,
224). The Indian Council of Medical Research conducted an investigation on lUDs
and found that many women could not retain the IUD and others suffered side-
effects; however, a massive campaign was launched and a large number of
women were fitted with lUDs anyway (Karkal 1986, 14). The Medical Termination
of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was passed in 1971 in order to liberalize the abortion
laws. Patel (1989b) says the forced sterilization of males during the Emergency
rule of Indira Gandhis regime brought politically disastrous consequences. As a
result there has been a shift in the policy and women have become the main
target of population control (114) with camps for mass IUD insertion and mass
India had a population increase of 161 million people in just ten years,
according to Steif (1992, 43). Today, with 850 million people India is second in
population only to China, and by the turn of the century the population is expected
to exceed one billion (according to the Population Reference Bureau, 1991; cited
in Moen 1991, 242). The Sixth Five Year Plan of 1981 had an objective of Net
Reproductive Rate (NRR) one, meaning a mother is replaced by a daughter. But
she could have more than one son, because the fertility goal was 2.3 children per
couple, down from 4.2 per couple. The goal of the Seventh Five Year Plan for
1985 to 1990 (Moen says the Eighth Five Year Plan has not yet been finalized)
include a two-child norm, a Net Reproduction Rate of 1.0, the introduction of
long-acting injectable and subdermal contraceptives, 31 million sterilizations, a
couple contraception protection rate of 42 percent and a crude birth rate of 29
(Government of India Planning Commission 1985b, 279-285; cited in Moen 1991,
243-244). Moen says "although forced sterilization is no longer openly practiced,
India is still heavy handed" (244).
Many people criticize the population control policies as being targeted at
women only. Karkal (1991) says that women bear the major burden of
contraceptive methods (such as the Pill, diaphragms, and foam tablets), and
women comprise 85 percent of those sterilized, although tubectomies are riskier to
a persons health than vasectomies (228). Karkal (1986) says there are other
ways in which government population policies promote the biases of the country:
large sums of money are spent on developing newer birth control methods, almost
all of them female methods newer lUDs, implants, injectables, etc. (15). Patel
says that "[mjost population-control research is conducted on women without
consideration for the harm caused by such research to the women concerned"
(1989b, 114). "By emphasizing female sterilization and hormonal contraceptives
. . the Indian family planning program has made women . targets, objects, and
victims (Balasubrahmanyan 1984, 153)" (quoted in Moen 1991, 244). Karkal
(1991) says "[i]n a patriarchal society where women have no rights over their
bodies and population control policy is enforced, abortions and abortion services
constitute one more instrument for the exploitation of women" (223); she
continues: "introduction of a liberal law in a country where women have little to
say in most matters . can only defeat the purpose of defending womens rights"
Comparison of China and India
Post-Revolutionary China and post-Independence India found their
populations continually increasing. With a combined population of more than two
billion people, China and India are the two most populated countries in the world
and account for more than one-third of the 92 million people added to the earth
each year ("Family Planning ..." 1992, 24). The governments, fearing that the
land could not support the people for much longer, implemented population control
policies designed to limit the number of births per year through education,
encouragement of contraception and sterilization, and the legalization of abortion.
China instituted a one-child per family policy, and India made a goal of two
children per family. Both policies are criticized for being directed more toward
women, without regard for their health and well-being. China has been generally
more effective in regard to fertility control; however, China is accused of using
draconian measures in pursuit of population stabilization, and debate continues
over whether the end justifies the means in population control policy. The fertility
policies of China and India are examples of womens issues being put on hold
while the government pursues more "important" policies.
As a result of the population control policies of China and India (and
Chinas new economic policies), son preference has emerged again (if it ever
really went away), which has led to public reemergence of female infanticide and
female neglect, abuse of women who give birth to daughters, and continued
devaluation of women and girls through discrimination in employment and
education, use of dowry and bride price, and overall negative attitude toward
females.3 Within the past several years sex-selective abortion has been used to
eliminate female fetuses, further contributing to the skewed sex ratios. And
currently there is debate over the use of sex pre-selection tests, whereby couples
can select the sex of their baby. Since the majority of the people choose to have
a boy, these tests could have serious repercussions for the future females.
There is no exact definition of the term "infanticide," but most scholars
agree that it involves the deliberate killing of an infant, or the deliberate neglect of
an infant resulting in death. Horn (1992) says that the term means "the induced
death (euthanasia) of infants by suffocation, drowning, abandonment, exposure, or
other methods" (225 note 20). Moen says the elimination of unwanted children
may involve deliberate killing, abandonment, placing the child in a dangerous
situation, "accidents," or excessive physical punishments; such killing may be
active or passive (1991, 246 note 2). But according to Scrimshaw (1984, 441)
"death through neglect when . parents just favor some children over others
should be defined as infanticide" (cited in Moen 1991, 246 note 2). Chang says
there are two types of infanticide in China: "state sanctioned infanticide by
hospital doctors and the widespread killing of female babies by their parents"
(1988, 260); some evidence indicates that "the Chinese government itself has
sanctioned and even ordered doctors to perform infanticide on unauthorized
infants during or immediately after delivery" (Jimmerson 1990, 74).
In addition to drowning, abandonment, or exposure, there are other
methods used to kill babies. Pachauri says "[a] bagful of sand is used to suffocate
the child, a heavy dose of opium does the trick in other cases or when the new-
born is tough enough to resist both, she is simply strangulated" (1988, 37).
Another method used is "stuffing a few grains of coarse paddy into its mouth. The
infant breathes the grain into its windpipe and chokes to death" (Venkatramani
1986, 33). But if that tactic doesnt work the baby is poisoned by a juicy extract
from the madar plant (33). Patel reports that infant girls in the Kallar community of
Tamil nadu may be killed by giving them milk from poisonous oleander berries
Female infanticide is outlawed in China and India, but punishment of those
who commit the crime has been inconsistent. Article 15 of the 1980 Marriage Law
of the Peoples Republic of China prohibits infanticide or acts harming children
(Conner 1990, 519). Jimmerson (1990) says that in a number of cases, the
culpable are indeed punished, but the bulk of reports tend to show that "in fact
very few parents [are] being held criminally liable" (66-67). Chang (1988) says
that Beijing has denied that there is female infanticide in China (261), and that
there are only "rare cases" which are "checked and corrected immediately"; but
[d]espite a few well-published cases, the vast majority of baby killings and
desertions are not prosecuted" (262). Female infanticide has been prohibited in
India since 1795 (Caiman 1992, 163 note 3). Pachauri says "Section 302 of the
Indian Penal Code calls it culpable homicide amounting to murder" (1988, 36).
But despite existing laws which deem infanticide a criminal offense, many cases
are reported each year in both China and India.
Jimmerson says "[t]he first indication that female infanticide was being
practiced came from the Chinese press in late 1982" (1990, 65). Newspapers
began publishing accounts of parents killing their girl infants and toddlers (65).
Conner says that the media "are full of stories of the willful murder of girl infants"
(1990, 8). She says in 1983 Renmin Ribao (Peoples Daily) published an account
of female infanticide in Anhui Province: in 1980 and 1981, "in just one production
team, more than 40 baby girls were drowned" (8). In the first three months of
1982, of five baby girls born to members of one brigade, "three were drowned and
two abandoned" (Kumar 1983a, 1076). Moen (1991, 238) and McGowan (1991,
481) report that five percent of the known female births are unaccounted for.
Honig and Hershatter (1988) say that, according to census data for 1981, "as
many as 232,000 baby girls may have been drowned, smothered, or abandoned
by families" (275). Mirsky reports that "a Chinese survey indicated almost 300,000
cases of female infanticide during 1982, and 345,000 in 1983" (1986, 19). In
1984, the city of Chungking reported more than 2,800 cases of female infanticide
(Bullough and Ruan 1988, 848). And in 1988 and 1989 "there were a number of
reports of infants, usually handicapped or female, being abandoned in railway
stations or other public places in major cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, and
Guangzhou" (Conner 1990, 519).
There are reports of female infanticide in India as well. A report from
Venkatramani (1986) of the Kallar community in the Madurai district indicates that
the practice has grown during the last 10 years and has become very widespread
after 1980 (31). In Chulivechanpatti "at least three girl babies have been killed
during the last six months," and in each of the more than 300 Kallar villages in
Usilampatti taluk "20 to 50 girl babies have been killed in the last five years" (31).
She says based on a rough calculation, "nearly 6,000 female babies must have
been poisoned to death in Usilampatti taluk in the last decade" (32). Pachauri
(1988) says in Balya village 16 cases of female infanticide during the last year
were confirmed by villagers" (37); "rough estimates for the entire area of 12
villages put the figure of killings at more than 150 every year" (37). Patel is
"convinced" that researchers could find cases of female infanticide in parts of
western Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh
I will discuss female neglect later in the chapter, but as I said in the
introduction, I must include some forms of female neglect with female infanticide,
since the neglect of girl babies can lead to their death, which becomes female
infanticide. Miller (1981) discusses neglect of female babies in terms of feeding
and medical care. She says "scattered reports of duration of breast feeding in
India do indicate some preference for longer feeding of boys" (91) and another
report indicates "that the first feeding of solid foods to a child is done months
earlier for a girl than for a boy" (91-92). Venkatramani confirms these reports:
[g]irl babies are breast-fed less frequently, and for a shorter duration than boy
babies" (1986, 26). Miller also discusses two studies done in the Punjab which
demonstrate that weanling diarrhea (contracted at the time of weaning) does not
strike the sexes on an equal basis: "infantile diarrhea disease were much more
widespread among infant girls. The greater presence of the disease among girls
was paralleled by higher death rates for girls" (1981, 88). Kishwar says "all you
have to do is neglect the child for two or three days if it has diarrhoea or some
other such ailment and the child is finished" (1987, 32). Kishwar also says that
the admission rate to hospitals in India shows that parents are far more reluctant
to take baby girls to the hospital when they are sick. For approximately every two
infant boys admitted, only one infant girl is admitted. And baby girls are likely to
be brought to the hospital at a much later stage of the illness, when they are
nearly dying (32). Honig and Hershatter (1988) report that a couple in China was
denying medical care to their two-year-old daughter in hopes that she would die
and they could try again for a boy (275-276). They also report that a woman was
trying to sell her baby daughter in the marketplace for the equivalent of 154 U.S.
dollars. And in another situation, a baby girl had been left in the hospital by her
family, "who insisted that the mother had given birth to a son and that the baby
must have been stolen and replaced by a girl" (276). Warren (1985) says that
many more females die in infancy, a fact that cannot be explained simply as the
result of inadequacies in diet or medical care of both female and male infants,
since these conditions would be more apt to produce a higher mortality rate
among males, who tend to be more vulnerable to disease (15-16). So female
neglect can sometimes lead to female infanticide.
Sex-Selective Abortion (Female Feticide)
Sex-selective abortion "involves testing for the sex trait of the fetus in vivo
and then aborting the fetus if it bears the wrong sex trait" (Evans 1983, 173).
Some of the tests used are amniocentesis (karyotypic analysis of cultivated
amniotic fluid cells Bennett 1983, 47), ultrasound imaging, fetoscopy, alpha-
fetoprotein measurement and chorionic villi sampling or biopsy (Dickens 1986,
249). Patel (1989b) says "sonography, fetoscopy, needling, chorion villi biopsy
(CVB) and the most popular one, amniocentesis, are increasingly becoming
household names in urban India" (111-112). Warren (1985) says with chorion
biopsy "a sample is taken through the cervix of the chorionic villi, the small rootlike
projections on the chorion, or outer portion of the placenta" (8). She says "chorion
biopsy has been in use for a decade in China, though few figures are available as
to how often it has been used for sex selection" (8). Bennett (1983) says
"[cjlinicians in the Peoples Republic of China report using a small sample of fetal
cells aspirated through the mothers cervix to diagnose accurately (93 out of 99
cases) gender at gestational age of 7 weeks" (9-10). A study done by Panthaki,
Banker, Kulkarni, and Patil (1979) on the accuracy of amniocentesis found that
"[b]y using the complementary nuclear sexing methods the sex of the foetus was
correctly predicted on 588 out of 600 amniotic fluid samples, giving an accuracy of
98 per cent" (973).
Amniocentesis tests were first performed in India in 1981 at the All India
Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. The main purpose of the tests was to
detect genetic disorders; however, "of the fifty mothers who had volunteered for
the tests, forty-eight of them opted for abortion after they were told that the fetus
was female" (Parikh 1990, 21). "The Institute was flooded with requests for
abortions in cases where the woman was found to be carrying a female foetus"
(Kiswar 1987, 34). Wertz and Fletcher say that sex selection "accounted for the
majority of prenatal diagnoses in Government of India hospitals until 1983, when
the central government barred using its facilities for this purpose" (1989, 25).
Private clinics began using the tests; Punjab was the first to start the
commercial use of the tests (Patel 1989b, 113). Behai (1988) says it started in
Amritsar when Dr. K.K. Loomba put up advertisements around the city saying
"Invest Rs. 500 now and save Rs. 50,000 later." The trend spread quickly to other
parts of the country, hitting Maharashtra first (89-91). Some clinics "proclaim
loudly that the birth of sons is the primary purpose of these tests" (Kishwar 1987,
34). Ravindra says within four years the number of clinics in Maharashtra rose
from about ten to five or six hundred (1987, 490). By early 1988 there were
almost three hundred clinics in Bombay alone (Kroeber 1989, 59). Tripathi says
no permit is required to conduct these tests (1988, 55). The cost of the test
varies; in the early 1980s the cost was about 1500 to 2000 Rupees ($88 to $117).
But as the number of clinics increased, the price dropped. Currently, the cost
ranges from 200 to 500 Rupees ($12 to $30), according the Parikh (1990, 21-22).
Sadasivam says the test can be done for as little as Rs. 150 (1986, 38). The cost
of an abortion varies as well. Moen says an abortion "in a private clinic costs
about $7 to $70, depending on the level of comfort" (1991, 247 note 18).
Moen says that sex-selective abortion is used in India by all sectors of
society (1991, 245). Patel says "the abuse of amniocentesis for the purpose of
female foeticide is now prevalent in all communities" (1989b, 113). These tests
are not confined to big cities; they have proliferated to small towns (Lingam 1991,
13). Sex-selective abortion is prevalent in China as well. Jeffrey, Jeffrey, and
Lyon (1984) say that recent reports from the Peoples Republic of China have
suggested an apparent growth in the use of amniocentesis for sexing (1207).
Patel (1989b) and Jeffrey, Jeffrey, and Lyon say that this trend is due to Chinas
one-child policy. In addition to amniocentesis, the use of ultrasonic feta. .^sting is
also growing in China (Moen 1991, 246 note 8).
The number of women going for fetal detection tests has steadily
increased. In Bombay, a research team sponsored by the Womens Centre found
that ten women per day underwent the test in 1982 (Patel 1989b, 112). Lingam
says by 1986 there were approximately 16,000 tests being performed each year in
the Bombay metro area (1991, 14). The number of abortions has increased as
well. It has been estimated that, between 1978 and 1983, 78,000 female fetuses
were aborted after sex-selection tests (Ghosh 1991, 25; Patel 1989b, 113; and
Tripathi 1988, 55). Wertz and Fletcher say that, during the period 1978-1982,
8,000 to 10,000 female feticides occurred in the Bombay area (1989, 25).
Ravindra says the figure of 30,000-40,000 female fetuses aborted in Bombay in
1985 "is considered by some knowledgeable sources as an underestimate" (1987,
490). Parikh (1990) says based on newspaper reports of official figures, in 1986-
1987, there were 5,216,850 abortions (28) and by 1987 50,000 sex-selective
abortions were taking place annually in Bombay (24). Evidence shows that male
fetuses are not being aborted with such regularity. One case cited quite often is
that of a study in Bombay, where 8,000 abortions were performed of which 7,999
were female fetuses, the one male fetus was aborted by a Jewish woman who
wanted a girl (Caiman 1992, 110 note 64; Meyer et al. 1987, 42; and Tripathi
1988, 55). A study conducted in 1987 for the Maharashtra state government
found "no instance of parents requesting the abortion of a male fetus" (Kroeber
1989, 59). Parikh discusses a survey done by Professor Ravindra in 1986: "[i]n
his research on 1000 cases in Bombay, he could not find a single case of a male
fetus being aborted, whereas 97 percent of the fetuses identified as female were
aborted" (1990, 24).
Critics of sex-determination tests say that the procedures are not safe.
Tripathi says that "amniocentesis can damage the foetus and placenta resulting in
spontaneous abortion and premature labor" (1988, 55). Lingam says "the clinical
preconditions of following aseptic procedures and ultrasonic monitoring are often
not followed during the incision and piercing of the amniotic sac" which can lead to
"high chances of sepsis in the reproductive tract or hip dislocation or respiratory
problems" (1991, 13). Abortion can also be dangerous to a womans health,
especially if it takes place in unsafe conditions. Karkal says that "abortion is
certified as a cause of death for a surprisingly large number of women" and is
known "to cause several gynaecological problems and complications in following
pregnancies" (1991, 229). According to Chatterji (1989) "currently over 370,000
legal abortions and 4 to 6 million illegal abortions are performed, and 75,000
women die of septic abortion each year" (cited in Moen 1991, 247 note 17). "A
study reveals that about 600,000 women die in India every year because of
botched abortions" ("Abortion in India" 1989, 23). In China, second trimester
abortions have become more prevalent (Moen 1991, 239). And Rowland says
abortions are not only performed during the first or second trimester, "but by
injection to kill the foetus followed by a Caesarian at seven or eight months"
(1987, 83). Many argue that sex-determination tests followed by abortion do not
guarantee the birth of a son; they merely ensure multiple abortions (Parikh 1990,
25; and Sadasivam 1986, 38-39). Both Patel (1989b) and Sadasivam (1986)
question how many abortions a woman can bear (until she conceives a son)
without seriously damaging her health.
Sex Pre-Selection Tests
For centuries, parents have been trying to determine the sex of their baby
before conception. Some of the methods tried are diet control, drugs (tablets
known as Select), vaginal jelly, "Sacred" beads called Rudraksh (Patel 1989b,
112), herbal medicines (Honig and Hershatter 1988, 189), and the timing of coitus
relative to ovulation within the menstrual cycle (Bennett 1983, 2). Today,
technology has made it easier and more accurate to select the sex of the baby.
"Test tube" techniques, such as in vitro fertilization, embryo replacement, transfer
and "flushing," and embryo freezing are some of the methods that encompass pre-
conception sex selection (Klein 1987, 64-65). Warren says "the most promising
methods of preconceptive sex-selection are probably those involving the
separation of androgenic and gynogenic spermatozoa, and artificial insemination
using sperm of predominantly one type" (1985, 11). Dr. Steven Taylor of the
Fertility Institute in New Orleans, USA, "says that the Institute has produced a boy
baby by selecting male-producing sperm for in-vitro fertilization" (Karkal 1986, 13).
Tripathi (1988, 55) says that the Japanese have a method which selectively
centrifugates chromosomes in two bands. Dr. Ronald Ericcson uses a method of
separating sperm on the basis of the chromosomes they carry; he has a chain of
clinics in forty-six countries on the continents of Europe, North America, Asia, and
Latin America (Patel 1989b, 116).
Bennett and Mason (1983) say that "a sperm-separation method . .
seems to raise the probability of bearing a son (perhaps up to .90) without
affording similar improvements in success for those interested in bearing a
daughter" (101). Holmes and Hoskins say that Ericcsons clinics advertise "for sex
selection (male) and male infertility" and that, in Ericcsons report in 1982,
seventy-five percent of ninety-one children were male (1987, 16). Patel says that
Ericcson announces in his handout "out of 263 couples who approached him for
begetting off-spring, 248 selected boys and 15 selected girls" (1989b, 116). So
most of the tests used to select the sex of a baby are used to select a boy.
Female infanticide may be restricted to certain parts of China and India, but
the consensus is that the general neglect of females goes on in most parts
(Caiman 1992, 51; and Kaur 1978, 128). Females are neglected, abused, and
discriminated against throughout their lives. The birth of a daughter is seen as a
sorrowful occasion. Girls and women receive less food and less medical care;
they are married off at a young age and are forced to have children when their
bodies are not yet developed; they are obligated to eliminate their baby girls
through abortion or infanticide; they are abused and sometimes murdered for not
giving birth to sons and for not providing enough dowry; they are maltreated when
they become widows; they do not receive much education and are employed at
jobs which do not pay as much as jobs for men; and they are considered naturally
inferior to males physically and intellectually, and, as a result, are forced to be
subservient to males.
Nutrition and healthcare. Miller (1981) says that there are periods in a
persons life in which there is greater nutritional need. The two most nutritionally
demanding periods for children are infancy and puberty (84). Pregnancy is
another period in which nutrition is important. Ghosh presents statistical evidence
which indicates that there is an overall higher incidence of malnutrition among
females in India (1991, 22). A recent survey showed that 71 percent of females
suffered from severe malnutrition, compared to 28 percent of males (Venkatramani
1986, 26). Kynch and Sen (1983) present statistics which show that the incidence
of malnutrition among female children was "substantially greater than in male
children" in the economic crisis which prevailed following the floods of 1978 (369-
370). In rural China when food is scarce, "girls are more likely to suffer from
chronic malnutrition than their brothers" ("Asia: Discarding Daughters" 1990, 40).
But Kishwar says that discrimination in food allocation does not take place only in
situations of acute poverty or absolute scarcity. She presents a study of two
villages, one in which land reform was fairly successful and the other in which land
reform was not; the former had experienced greater prosperity and an overall
lower rate of malnutrition, but "almost all of the benefits of economic prosperity ..
went to male children. Female children stayed more or less at the level at which
they were before the land reforms" (1987, 32-33). Upadhyay (1991) says cultural
traditions dictate that the best food is reserved for men and boys, who eat first
(121), whereas mothers and girls eat last, and sometimes there is not much left
over for them to eat. Ramachandran (1992) presents a study on energy
expenditure and calorie intake in India which shows that women expend 53
percent of human energy on survival tasks, while men use 31 percent, but women
consume less calories than what is expended and men consume more (62).
In regard to medical care, there is "consistent neglect of female health"
(Caiman 1992, 62). Bajpai (1991) says that female children receive fewer
immunizing vaccines against childhood diseases (49). Miller (1985) presents data
from rural India which shows the "extreme discrimination against females in
distribution of health benefits" (18). Kynch and Sen say that urban medical care
facilities seem to be used more by males than by females (1983, 371). Ghosh
says that hospital records show a preponderance of males: male admissions are
approximately 65 percent and females are 35 percent of the total (1991, 23-24).
Sadasivam says that 70 percent of Indian women are anemic (1986, 39).
Ramachandran (1992) says that pregnant women suffer from "nutritional anemia"
because they are deprived of basic vitamins, calcium, protein, and iron,
deficiencies of which sometimes cause night blindness during and immediately
after pregnancy (63). Ghosh (1991) says females often become pregnant at the
age of fourteen or fifteen years, when they are psychologically immature and their
bodies are not yet fully developed, leading to problems with their health and the
health of the baby. Some of the complications are pregnancy-induced high blood
pressure, iron deficiency which aggravates anemia, maternal malnutrition, and
difficulties in childbirth due to incomplete pelvic growth (26). Bajpai says that
thirteen percent of female deaths before the age of 24 are due to pregnancy and
childbirth complications (1991, 49). Kaur (1978, 139) and Caiman (1992, 51-52)
say that frequent and excessive childbearing have an adverse impact on Indian
women. And cultural prescriptions for maintaining modesty about physical matters
and requiring the permission of a male relative to seek health care (usually by
female health workers only) often prevent women from getting necessary medical
In essence, women and girls do not receive as much food and medical
care as males. Up to twice as much is spent on boys nutrition and medical care
as on girls (Bajpai 1991, 49). Moen (1991) says in Narangwal, India, girls are
four to five times more likely to suffer from kwashiorkor, a condition associated
with protein deficiency, but boys are fifty times more likely to be hospitalized for
treatment (246 note 11). Ghosh says that the response of some people to
nutrition and health care for daughters, particularly for the third and fourth, often is
"let her die" (1991, 23).
General neglect. In addition to nutrition and medical care, there is
evidence of serious comparative neglect of females (Kynch and Sen 1983, 370)
which manifests itself in other ways. Caiman (1992, 52) says that females are
overworked and underfed, and Moen (1991) says "today deliberate neglect and
overwork more often may be the cause of the 'agonizingly long intentional and
unintentional killing of girls and women" (232). Bajpai says that a report on the
Punjab found that forty percent more was spent on boys clothing (1991, 49), and
Kaur (1978) says that females are less warmly clad and receive less attention
(128). Miller (1981) gives suggestive, rather than conclusive, evidence of
discrimination against females in the allocation of love and warmth; according to
her, some researchers "state that boys do receive more love than girls; later-born
only sons may be especially favored" (104). Girls are expected to assist in the
housework (e.g., washing, cleaning, cooking, child care) ("India: Seminar on
Adolescent Girls Health" 1992, 25), which often prevents them from studying or
even attending school. Moen reports that in China, "millions of young girls are
being kept out of school and hired out to wealthier families" (1991, 240). A larger
number of girls than boys appear to be given up for adoption ("100 Million Women
Missing" 1992, 80). Johansson and Nygren (1991) say that adopted children
account for about half of the "missing" girls in China, but Moen (1991) says that
they have overestimated the proportion of missing girls by adoption, as no
distinction was made between adopted girls whose births had and had not been
registered (238). And the "abduction of children, particularly young girls who are
sold as brides, is reportedly becoming more common" in China (Conner 1990,
Marriage. Patriliny and patrilocality continue in China and India, so girls
are still considered "temporary" members of their natal family. Child marriage is
common, despite the Child Marriage Restraint Act in India which designates fifteen
years as the minimum legal age of marriage (Caiman 1992, 52). Ghosh says that
girls are married off at the age of twelve to fourteen years in India (1991, 25).
Unlike the first marriage law in China (enacted in 1950), the 1980 Marriage Law
"no longer specifically prohibits the practice of child betrothal, presumably on the
grounds that such feudal practices have long since been eradicated" (Conner
1990, 519). However, child marriage does exist, even for children as young as
seven or eight, and in one area a survey found that 86 percent of children under
the age of fourteen were already engaged (519). Arranged marriages still exist
(Croll 1984, 79), as do cousin marriage and "exchange marriage" (Miller 1981,
155). According to Steif (1992, 43), eighty to ninety percent of Indias marriages
Despite the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 in India (Caiman 1992, 55) and
the abolition of the betrothal gift (formerly "bride price" or "body price") in Chinas
new Marriage Law (Croll 1984, 76), the custom of giving dowry and betrothal gifts
persists.5 In India, the practice of dowry is widespread and has gradually replaced
bride price (Ramachandran 1992, 63), and in China the rise in the value of the
betrothal gift is associated with the decline of the dowry (Croll 1984, 80). Dowry is
given "to a man and his family to take a woman off her parents hands" ("Dowry
Deaths ..." 1989, 54) and to "compensate the husband for shouldering the
burden of his wife" (Patel 1989b, 114). Caiman (1992) says a woman "is seen as
parasitic, as a liability; thus a new family must be paid off to take her" (56). By
contrast, the betrothal gift is a form of compensation to the brides family for the
costs of bringing her up and for the loss of her labor upon marriage; in other
words, it is the "thinly disguised purchase of brides" (Croll 1984, 79). In India, the
high cost of a traditional wedding (Gorman-Stapleton 1990, 26), the exorbitant
demands of the grooms family (Warren 1985, 36), and the pressure to continue
giving gifts to the husbands family after marriage (Caiman 1992, 56) constitute a
powerful disincentive to the raising of daughters, who are considered expensive
(Wertz and Fletcher 1989, 25), financial burdens (Parikh 1990, 29), and a liability
("The Status of Female Children ..." 1989, 49). Venkatramani says even those
who are victimized by the practice of dowry refuse to join campaigns against the
practice. "They point out, rather, that it is only because they were cursed with
female children that they fell prey to the system" (1986, 32).
Dowry deaths and violence against brides (which sometimes results in their
suicide) who do not bring enough dowry into the husbands family are a problem in
India. Warren (1985) says that India is currently experiencing an epidemic of
dowry murders, where thousands of young women "have been burned to death by
their husbands or in-laws, as revenge for a supposedly inadequate dowry" (36). A
dowry death "may also result from the husbands desire to marry again and thus
obtain a new dowry" (Caiman 1992, 56). WIN News ("Dowry Deaths ..." 1989)
reports that "registered cases of dowry deaths nationwide numbered 999 in 1985,
1,319 in 1986, and 1,786 in 1987" (54); but "the unregistered cases are estimated
to be ten times more!" (Patel 1989b, 115). Ramachandran (1992) says that there
were 411 cases of suicide by married women in 1983, 652 in 1985, and 662 in the
first ten months of 1986 (64). Caiman (1992) says if one looks at the frequency of
violent deaths, a more frightening picture emerges (127); "the number of women
dying violent deaths in what the police call 'suicides and accidents is no doubt far
Women have no control over their reproduction and no control over the
size of their families. Karkal (1986) says women have no choice in determining
the size of their family, even though surveys show that women prefer smaller
families (13). Venkatramani (1986) says "it is the duty of the mother to kill the
unwanted daughter by way of compensation for having failed to give her husband
a son" (32). Many women are forced by their husbands and in-laws to undergo
sex-determination tests (Kulkarni 1986, 21) and a subsequent abortion if the fetus
is found to be female. Many women are also abused and thrown out of their
homes for not giving birth to sons (Gorman-Stapleton 1990, 27), and sometimes
they are terrorized to the point that they resort to suicide (Honig and Hershatter
1988, 189-190). Dalsimer and Nisonoff (1987) say that women in China bear the
burden of retribution "from the government when they bear an extra child and from
their families when they bear a female child" (597).
Women also experience discrimination when they become widows. A
widow "is associated with misfortune and is regarded as inauspicious" (Council
1975, 14). In spite of the legal sanction for remarriage provided since 1856,
tradition still holds that a widow is not permitted to be remarried. And although
sati was banned in 1829, the custom has never entirely disappeared; Warren says
that cases of sati "continue to be reported each year" (1985, 45).
Education and employment. Females constitute the majority of illiterates in
China and India. Horn (1992) says that seventy percent of Chinas 220 million
illiterates are women (301 note 181). Croll (1984) presents statistical data on the
level of education of rural women which show that 42 percent are illiterate, and 45
percent have attended only primary school (37). In India, only 24.88 percent of
women are literate (Caiman 1992, 52) and girls constitute just 36.3 percent of the
total enrollment in schools (Upadhyay 1991, 99).
Women tend to work longer hours and bear almost total responsibility for
childcare and housework. In China, "there is continuing and overt discrimination
against women applicants in the competition for jobs" and "women are thinly
represented at the top end of the salary continuum" (Croll 1984, 46 and 56).
Chang (1988) says that Chinese women "are concentrated in sectors such as light
industry where wages are lower" (263). Davis-Friedmann (1985) says that the
earnings of rural Chinese women "are generally only 59-70 per cent of those of
their male counterparts . and [they] bear heavier responsibility for unpaid
housework which reduces the number of hours they can work in the paid labour
forces" (153). In India, there has been a decline in working women: "only 253
women per 1000 men were economically active in 1981" (Karkal 1986, 13), which
is 19.76 percent of the total female population (Upadhyay 1991, 235). Indian
women also experience occupational discrimination resulting from the
concentration of women in less skilled and lower paying jobs, and their pay is also
lower than that of men who are working in equal capacity (Upadhyay 1991, 248).
Status. Surveys in China reflect the view "that women are physically
weaker and inferior to men, display negative personality traits, and inherently do
not possess the same abilities to leam and study" (Horn 1992, 301 note 183). In
India, the "impurity associated with menstruation and childbirth, which restricts
women from joining religious ceremonies, strengthens the view that they are
naturally inferior to men" (Council 1975, 14). Karkal (1986) says that women are
forced to be subservient to the men of the family father, brother, husband, and
Mortality rate. Discrimination against females has led to high levels of
excess female mortality in China and India. "In the 1980s boys have been found
to outnumber girls 5 to 1 in some rural areas of China" (Moen 1991, 232). In
1982, the estimated life expectancy for Chinese women was 64.2 years while that
for Chinese men was 65.7 years (Chang 1988, 264), and in 1988, life expectancy
for women was 66 and for men, 69 (Moen 1991, 238). Karkal (1986) says in
India, "the death rate of women is higher from the age of one to the end of their
reproductive span" (13). The mortality rate among baby girls is approximately fifty
percent higher than that of baby boys in some parts of India (Kishwar 1987, 32).
Of the twelve million girls born every year, 1.5 million do not live past the first
year, 85,000 die before they are five years old (Parikh 1990, 29), and by the
fifteenth year, only nine million will still be alive (Bajpai 1991, 49).
Female infanticide, sex-selective abortion, discrimination in food allocation
and medical care, excess female mortality, and incidences of dowry death and sati
all contribute to the skewed sex ratios in China and India. In China, the ratio for
1981 was 108.5 males to 100 females (Jimmerson 1990, 65). Davin says the
figure for the province of Guangdong was 110.5, and for the provinces of Guangxi
and Anhui the figures were 110.7 and 112.5, respectively (1985, 63). Bullough
and Ruan (1988) report that the ratio in Wuhan, one of the ten largest cities in
China, was 154, and in a village in Hupei province "the ratio of boys to girls under
1 year old had reached 503 to 100 by 1982" (848). In India, the ratio is 930
females to 1000 males (Caiman 1992, 51). Pachauri reports that, for Rajasthan, it
is 919, for Jaisalmer district, it is 811, and for the Thar desert the sex ratio is 750
females per 1000 males (1988, 37). Patel (1989b) says the sex ratio for Uttar
Pradesh is 886 and for Bijnor district, it is 863 (113). In the Punjab the sex ratio is
879 (Bajpai 1991, 49). Ramachandran (1992) says the total deficit "has increased
from three million in 1901 to 22 million fewer females in 1991" (61).
The reason that females are so devalued is because son preference is so
great and because patriarchy, patriliny, and patrilocality remain strongly
entrenched in China and India. "A strong preference for sons reflects and
reinforces the low status of women" ("Family Planning ..." 1992, 24). "Males
are still thought to be the smartest and strongest" (Moen 1991, 236).
Moen says the revolution in China "was able to reduce daughter disdain
but not son preference" (1991, 236). The preference for sons is rooted in the
traditional male kinship system and in the belief that the family line passes on
through the male (Davin 1985, 51). The preference for sons is also religious; in
ancestor worship only males can perform the ritual offerings that link the
generations (Davis-Friedmann 1985, 153). Mirsky (1983) says that many rural
couples "want their only child to be a good one a male because the
government does not provide old-age benefits" (13).6
In India "intense son preference is often coexistent with intense
discrimination against daughters" (Miller 1981, 35-36). Boys are considered family
assets, because they represent social security for parents in their old age (Caiman
1992, 126). A son is considered important to perform the ancestral (straddha)
rites for the father after his death to ensure the peace of his soul (Miller 1981,
160). And a family does not need to provide a dowry when the son gets married;
on the contrary, the son will bring dowry into the family.
1Mirsky says whenever the Communist party attempted to interfere in family
life, "if the measures provoked male disapproval the policy has been amended or
dropped" (19). Chang presents the example of the Marriage Law of 1950, which
gave women the right to divorce. As a result, in 1952 more than 90,000 divorces
were granted, most of which were instigated by women. In response, men would
beat their wives for seeking divorce, or murder them, and many women who were
beaten and tortured resorted to suicide. "Across China, countless women seeking
divorce suffered abuse or died in their attempts to assert their newly-legislated
freedom" (251). In the end, the party advised local cadres not to enforce the
Divorce Law (Mirsky, 20). Jonathan Mirsky, "Return of the Baby Killers," New
Statesman 111 (1986): 19-20; and Maria Hsia Chang, "Women," Chapter 13 in
Wu et al., Human Rights in the People's Republic of China (Boulder and London:
Westview Press, Inc., 1988): 250-267.
2Hom says "[f]or example, in China between 1971-1982, there were 35
million female sterilizations compared to 19 million male sterilizations. In addition,
. . many of these sterilizations were involuntary" (267). Davin says that female
sterilizations have outnumbered male sterilizations by 3:2 (47). Sharon K. Horn,
"Female Infanticide in China: The Human Rights Specter and Thoughts Towards
(An)other Vision," Columbia Human Rights Law Review 23 (Summer 1992): 249-
SI 4; and Elisabeth Croll, Delia Davin, and Penny Kane, Chinas One-Child Family
Policy (Hong Kong: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1985).
3Once again, for the purposes of space, I am making generalizations about
females in China and India. I am not saying that all girls are murdered or
neglected, nor that all women are subjected to abuse and discrimination. But
because I must limit myself I am obligated to make general observations about
certain issues, such as female infanticide, female neglect, and abuse of women,
which is not to say that they occur in all parts of China and India. For example,
female infanticide is thought to occur mostly in the northern part of India (please
see Miller 1981). And there are many women in China and India who are not
discriminated against, who have jobs which are considered to be "male" jobs, and
who belong to womens groups which are trying to combat social injustices (I will
discuss womens groups in Chapter IV).
4ln this section, I have decided to include the neglect of women as well as
girls because many girls are married at a young age and, consequently, take on
the responsibilities of women (i.e. childbirth). It seems to me that, sometimes,
there is a fine line between girls and women in parts of China and India (as well
as in other countries).
5lt is interesting that, in China, dowry was predominant and was replaced
by betrothal gifts, and in India, bride price was predominant and was replaced by
dowry. But again, both dowry and betrothal gifts have negative connotations for
6Communes provided old-age benefits prior to the implementation of the
new agricultural policies. Today, townships are supposed to provide benefits, but
many simply do not have the funds.
DEBATES AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS
Female infanticide, female neglect, female feticide, and sex pre-selection
tests are all forms of sex selection used to prevent the birth of daughters and
ensure the birth of sons. This sex selection is part of the overall discrimination
against, and devaluation of, girls and women. Sex selection is a problem in China
and India because of the strong preference for sons which is enhanced by the
governments population control policies. Many people are trying to eliminate sex
selection. Groups are campaigning against the use of sex-selective abortion and
sex pre-selection tests. The governments of China and India are implementing
policies to prevent the misuse of sex-determination and sex pre-selection tests.
People are debating whether the use of these tests is really a problem, and if it is,
are trying to discover solutions to the issue of sex selection.
Several groups in China and India have spoken out against the use of sex
selection. The Womens Federation has addressed issues of violence and
discrimination against females in an effort to reduce traditional prejudices against
females. The Forum Against Sex Determination and Sex Pre-Selection was
formed specifically to combat sex selection in India. And the governments of
China and India are implementing policies to deter the use of sex-determination
tests for selective abortion.
The Communist government is using education and propaganda campaigns
to alter the negative attitude toward females in order to reduce the incidences of
female infanticide and female neglect, and to deter the use of sex-determination
tests for selective abortion (Horn 1992, 259; and Jimmerson 1990, 69). The
Central Committees Propaganda Department "specifically called for the protection
of infant girls, and also of women who had given birth to daughters, from social
ostracism and physical cruelty at the hands of husbands, parents-in-law, or other
kinfolk" (Tien 1985, 131). Since 1987, physicians have been prohibited from
telling the parents the sex of the fetus following ultrasonic fetal testing; however,
the law is frequently violated (Moen 1991, 246 note 8). The government is also
taking steps to relax the one-child per family rule. Couples who have a daughter
are allowed to have a second child with planned spacing (Bullough and Ruan
1988, 848; and Hong 1987, 317).
The Women's Federation, exhorted by the Communist Party to unite and
forward the interests of women, has taken a firm stance in support of womens
legitimate rights. The Federation urges women to speak out and assert their
needs regardless of the consequences. The Federation also addresses the issues
of employment, violence against women (such as rape and the abduction, sale,
and trade of women), and the physical abuse of women who give birth to
daughters (Croll 1984, 121). The Federation is continuing the educational
campaign against male superiority and the traditional prejudices and discrimination
against women, a task the Federation has concerned itself with for the last thirty
years (122). And the Federation is also attempting to popularize the idea that a
bridegroom should settle in the brides home (matrilocality), instead of the other
way around (Croll 1984, 98).
Many groups in India have spoken out against the use of sex-determination
(SD) tests for selective abortion. Caiman (1992, 79) says the YWCA "drafted a
memorandum to the government opposing the use of amniocentesis for sex-
determination." The group has also helped to organize demonstrations against SD
tests and has participated in demonstrations organized by other groups. The
Forum Against Sex Determination and Sex Pre-Selection (FASDSP) is "an
umbrella organisation of womens groups, doctors, democratic rights groups, and
the Peoples Science Movement" (Patel 1989b, 117). The FASDSP is concerned
with raising public awareness on the issue and setting in motion a debate in the
print media (Lingam 1991, 15). The group has organized public meetings,
seminars, and workshops to educate the public, and has given television, radio,
and newspaper interviews (Parikh 1990, 23). They have organized
demonstrations, lobbied newspapers to refuse advertisements of clinics that offer
SD tests, and have reached the masses through widespread poster campaigns
(23). Other organizations, such as NSUI, Human Party, UNICEF, National Media
Centre, NGO Forum, and the Third Ali India Womens Studies Conference have,
on different occasions, supported a ban on SD tests (Ravindra 1987, 491).
In 1988, the Maharashtra government enacted a law which prohibits the
use of amniocentesis for sex determination. The Act provides for strict penalties
for those who use sex-determination tests for aborting female fetuses (Behai 1988,
90). The tests can be used only in government hospitals and recognized medical
research institutes, and only to detect genetic disorders (Tripathi 1988, 55).
Legislation by other states in India is currently being discussed.
The controversy over sex-selective abortion emerged in India in 1982,
when an error in the analysis led to the abortion of a male fetus (Parikh 1990, 22).
The issue has since been frequently debated. Arguments for and against the use
of sex-selective abortion and sex pre-selection tests have arisen.1 The debates
have centered around population control, balanced family, eugenics, and womens
Proponents of sex-selective abortion say that it is an effective form of
population control. If couples are allowed to choose the sex of their children, then
they will have fewer (Parikh 1990, 25). John Postgate, in an article entitled "Bats
Chance in Hell," and Clare Boothe Luce (1978)2 argue that the rate of population
increase in the Third World could be slowed if people could be guaranteed not
only the number of children that they will have, but also the sexes (Powledge
1983, 203). Postgate says that son preference tends to be strongest in precisely
those countries which are most impoverished and which have the highest birth
rate, and that by reducing the number of women in these countries, there will be a
drastic reduction in the birth rate (Warren 1985, 165-166).
Holmes and Hoskins (1987) say that "to propose sex selection for
population control is to be racist and classist as well as sexist" (24). "To propose
femicide for population control is to make the assumption that it is women who are
responsible for the population boom and whose numbers should therefore be
controlled" (Sadasivam 1986, 40). And despite the fact that the number of
females continues to decrease, the population as a whole continues to grow (Rao
1988, 467). Ramachandran (1992) says that there were "22 million fewer females
in 1991 despite rapid increases in the total population" (61).
Some say that sex selection allows parents to achieve a balanced family,
with the number and sex of the children determined by the parents. So parents
will be happier because there will be no disappointment at the birth of a wrong
sex child (Rowland 1987, 81). Kulkarni (1986) says some doctors feel that sex-
determination tests and selective abortion are a good method of family planning
But the problem with this argument, according to some, is that the concept
of 'balanced family also has a sexist bias; no woman is pressured to abort the
fetus if it is a male (Parikh 1990, 25). "Would the couples with one or more sons
request amniocentesis to get rid of male foetuses and have a daughter in order to
balance their family? Never!" says Patel (1989b, 115). Patel also asks "What
price should women pay for a 'balanced family? How many abortions can a
woman bear without jeopardizing her health?" (115). Balasubrahmanyan (1983)
says that "no women seem to be using the test to get rid of male children to
balance their families" (24). Lingam (1991) says "the proposal to provide sex-
detection tests ... to arrive at a balanced family ... is a lopsided priority" (16).
Population improvement is an argument used by some to promote the use
of sex selection. Miller (1981) talks of Mildred Dickemans paper "Infanticide and
Hypergamy: A Neglected Relationship" in which she views hypergamy as working
genetically to improve the population arguing that, due to the "scarcity" of females
at the bottom of the marriage hierarchy of hypergamous groups, there must be
less breeding at these lower levels (56). Men in the upper status level have
access to more women through polygyny and concubinage, so the desirable genes
of the men at the top have a better chance of spreading throughout the population
and "enriching" the quality of the genes thereof (56). She sees dowry as a
"crucial link between sociocultural systems and the operation of natural selection
of man" (1976:12). Since Dickeman "apparently correlates low economic status
with undesirable, less viable genes, she can then infer from this that reduced
breeding in the lower echelons works to improve the quality of the genes in the
whole population" (56). Miller views this sociobiological explanation of female
infanticide as inadequate for many reasons:
First, it rests on unproven assumptions such as the one that
people of high economic standing have genes that are more
conducive to the survival of the population than do people who are
poor. Second, this approach fails to help explain the presence of
infanticide in areas where the ideological contrivances of hypergamy
and dowry are not at work and there is no apparent upward flow of
Moen (1991) discusses the "overtly eugenic approach to birth control in
China, and the subtler one in India" (245) and says that "sex selection on the
grounds that males are superior to females could be justified under the form of
social Darwinism that has been practiced in nations that call themselves more
developed" (235). She gives the example of the United States earlier in this
century and Singapore in the 1980s, which "tried to use politically based eugenics
as a substitute for social and economic reform" (235). Powledge says that "sex
choice is eugenics in all the opprobrious senses of that word" (1983, 211). Warren
(1985) asks "And might sex selection and other new reproductive technologies
lead to more dangerous forms of human genetic engineering?" (5).
Another argument used is that it is a womans choice to have sex-
determination tests followed by selective abortion, and that doctors are just
providing a service to women. Deepak (1983) says that a doctor who offers sex-
determination tests for selective abortion "is in a way solving the short-run problem
of those women whose life will be made miserable" (1) if they give birth to another
daughter. Kulkarni (1986) says doctors feel that they are providing a humane
service to those women who do not want to have more female children (22).
Sadasivan (1986) says "the oft-heard justification by doctors and others,
that it is a womans choice, is nothing but self-serving and escapist. . [cjhoice,
in India, is restricted and determined by sex, class, and caste" (40). Parikh (1990)
says that women are responding to severe family pressure to produce a son (25).
Lingam says "choice" is only meaningful "if it can be exercised in a context of
material, social, and gender equity" (1991, 15). Holmes and Hoskins say that "so
many of the choices that women face remain within the patriarchal framework"
(1987, 25). Patel asks [A]re these choices made in a social vacuum? These
women are socially conditioned to accept that unless they produce one or more
male children they have no social worth" (1989b, 115).
Improvement in Womens Status
Many say that a reduction in the number of women will increase their
value, and, as a result, their status will improve. Kumar says that sex selection
"will reduce the supply of women, they will become more valuable, and female
children will be better cared for and will live longer" (1983b, 63). Hong says the
patrilineal kinship system may finally cease to be a significant factor, uxorilocal
marriages may vie with virilocal marriages, and gender equality may become a
reality (1987, 319). Keyfitz (in the Foreword to Bennett 1983, xii-xiii) says that "in
any society where both parental preference for boys and depressed condition of
women are present, sex selection will make a major contribution to the equality of
Warren says "history makes clear that although women (and men)
sometimes profit from a shortage of their own sex, the rarity value of women
often leads to imprisonment rather than power" (1985, 2). Dube (1983) says that
scarcity of females can lead to polyandry and to the practice of abduction and
purchase of women (279-280). Lingam (1991) says that there is already a scarcity
of females, but it has not led to improvement in their status (15). Sadasivam
Not only does the status of women in India, where the sex ratio has
for decades favoured men, explode such a theory, but independent
studies have also shown that a 'reduced supply of women leads to
polyandry, rape and abduction (40).
Rowland says if women are valued because of their scarcity, it would only be for
sexual and breeding purposes as opposed to their intrinsic worth as people (1987,
81). Rowland also brings up another point:
Women are the most exploited, manipulated, oppressed, and
brutalized group in the world, yet we have the numbers. What
would our status be as a vastly outnumbered group? (83).
"Feticide" as Opposed to "Femicide"
Proponents of sex-selective abortion say that female feticide is better than
female infanticide or female neglect. Kumar asks, "Is it really better to be born
and left to die than to be killed as a foetus?" (1983a, 1075). "Isnt it better to
prevent the birth of a female than allow her to grow up in neglect and
oppression?" (Sadasivam 1986, 40) and "Why bring women into a world that does
not want women? (Balasubrahmanyan 1983, 23) are two questions which are
also raised. Miller (1981) says that sex selection "would have the highly beneficial
effect of reducing the number of unwanted daughters born and thus of reducing
their suffering and wastage through neglect and discrimination" (168-169).
This argument perpetuates the idea that women are inferior and does
nothing to solve the problem of the devaluation of women and girls. Eliminating
females by abortion is not the way to reduce female infanticide and female
neglect. Patel (1989b) says
To believe that it is better to kill a female foetus than to give birth to
an unwanted female child is not only short-sighted but also fatalistic.
By this logic it is better to kill poor people or Third World masses
rather than to let them suffer in poverty and deprivation! (115).
Many people feel that sex-determination tests and sex pre-selection tests
should be legally banned. The Maharashtra government seemed to be responding
to these demands when it banned the use of amniocentesis for selective abortion.
Other states in India are discussing similar legislation. Sharad Oighe introduced a
bill in Parliament seeking amendment of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act
to curb misuse of its provisions for sex-determination tests followed by selective
abortion (Sadasivam 1986, 41). Health activists have suggested that a bill should
stipulate that women undergo these tests only if they have a family history of
genetic abnormalities, have had three or more spontaneous abortions or still-
births, or have been exposed to drugs, chemicals, or radiation which could result
in a genetically malformed child (41).
Others feel that a ban would undermine womens reproductive freedom.
Holmes and Hoskins say that advocating a ban would be suggesting to
policymakers that governments should regulate human reproduction, and hard-
won reproductive freedoms would be jeopardized (1987, 24). Kiswar is hesitant to
impose a ban because it usually sends the practice underground, thus making the
practice more hazardous for womens health (1987, 34). Powledge (1983) says
that "society should seek no legal restrictions on reproductive freedom, even on a
technology that will be used selectively against females" (207). Gorman-Stapleton
(1990) says that legislation will violate womens rights by creating rights in female
Several people have spoken out against female infanticide, female neglect,
female feticide, and sex pre-selection. Horn (1992) says that female infanticide "is
a form of policing and terrorist practice of control over women to keep them in
their prescribed reproductive role as the bearers of sons" (259). The Womens
Federation "conceives of infanticide and violence as only the visible manifestation
of the invisible patriarchal partiality that persists in spite of all the rules and laws
written since liberation incorporating political and economic equality" ("Women of
China" 1984, 58). Warren (1985) says that sex selection is "morally objectionable
not only because it reflects the injustices of patriarchal social systems, but
because it contributes to the perpetuation of those injustices" (41).
Others have addressed the issue of population policy and have proposed
changes so that women are not the objects of population control. Horn (1992)
says that "careful attention must be given to the impact on and the role of women
as the primary target population of any policy or program" (269). Tangri (1976)
says that "all women are subjected to the social, legal, and political regulation of
their own reproductive capacity by others" (897) and that women should have
control over their own bodies and reproductive capacities and therefore, should
have the major control over population programs (895). Sadasivam (1986) says
Sociologists have repeatedly pointed out that the roots of the
population problem are lack of food, economic security, sanitary
conditions and medical facilities . better health care and
education and employment opportunities for women contribute
greatly to decreasing population growth (40).
Solutions to the problem of female infanticide, female neglect, female
feticide, and sex pre-selection tests range from legal to economic to social. Some
argue for a total ban on sex-determination and sex pre-selection tests. Some say
that incentives should be used to encourage parents to keep their daughters.
Some address the economic aspect of womens subordination. Some argue that
the social structure needs to be revised so that son preference and daughter
disdain are eliminated. Others say that education is the key.
In regard to female infanticide, the Chinese government's approach has
been to criminalize the behavior and to focus on education, deterrence, and
punishment of individuals. Horn (1992) says
Although legal prohibitions and protections are clearly significant in
terms of norm building and contributing to a climate of equality for
girls and women, the isolated privatized criminalization of the
problem is not enough to eradicate the practice or the underlying
ideological and structural causes of the problem (260).
If viewed as a form of social femicide, female infanticide would be seen as more
than a crime committed by individuals: reconceptualization of the problem as
social femicide "urges the reframing of a more appropriate social response" (261).
Miller (1981) says "a high demand for and use of female labor will support the
survival of females" (132); thus, "development efforts that detract from female
employment should be carefully examined to see what their impact will be on
female labor participation" (168). Balasubrahmanyan (1983) says the war on
amniocentesis "cannot be fought in isolation from the broader feminist goal of
economic independence for women" (24). Wikler (1986) says since the primary
recipients of the new reproductive technologies are women, "the future course of
research and deployment in this area should be fully informed by womens diverse
views" (1056-1057). Powledge (1983) says preference studies and research
targeted either at the sexing of fetuses or at enhancing chances of conception of
one sex over the other should not be funded. Kumar (1983a) says pensions could
be given to couples who do not have sons (1076). Dalsimer and Nisonoff (1987)
suggest the opposite:
Parents of only-daughters could be awarded bonuses doubled or
tripled those presently offered to one-child families. The bonuses
for one-son families could be dropped and instead directed at only-
daughter families, for sons are not the problem (599).
Honig and Hershatter say a solution would be to improve social welfare so that
having a son would no longer be so crucial to surviving old age (1988, 276).
Dowry is considered by some to be the reason for sex selection. But Caiman
(1992) says that ending dowry "is never even mentioned as a long-term goal or,
as far as I know, taken into account as part of the analysis of the oppression of
women" (126). Kaur (1978) says
The social climate needs to be changed through organized efforts at
demonstrating the need and value of treating male and female
children as equally important assets to the family, to the community,
and to the nation ... a society in which male and female children
become equally valued and valuable members" (149).
The educational system "is the only institution which can counteract the deep
foundations of inequality of the sexes that are built in the minds of men and
women through the socialization process" (Council 1975, 101). Warren (1985)
says that a solution would be to "eliminate the cultural and economic bases of
son-preference" which will require "nothing less than the elimination of patriarchy
Instrumentalist arguments raised against the use of sex selection only
serve to reinforce womens subordinate role. Mirsky says one official warning
revealed the real focus of the Chinese governments concern: "if the killing of girls
went on, within 20 years there would be no wives" (20). Warren says that there
will be unhappiness among excess men who are unable to find wives (132). But
Horn (1992) says "to argue that people should not murder their baby girls because
they will create a future shortage of wives not only reflects a conservative vision of
limited future roles for any girl babies who survive, but such an argument also
reinforces the devaluation of female life except as it is valuable in relationship to
men" (270). Jonathan Mirsky, "Return of the Baby Killers," New Statesman 111
(1986): 19-20; Mary Ann Warren, Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection
(Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld, 1985); and Sharon K. Horn,
"Female Infantice in China: The Human Rights Specter and Thoughts Toward
(An)other Vision," Columbia Human Rights Law Review 23 (Summer 1992):
2The information that I have regarding Postgate and Luce is secondhand,
as I did not obtain any literature written by either author.
As I said in Chapter I, discrimination against women and girls is not limited
to China and India. Females are discriminated against worldwide in terms of
education, employment, and economic opportunities. Upadhyay (1991) says that
sixty percent of the world's illiterates are women. And the United Nations
presented a report in 1980 which illustrates the universal discrimination against
females in employment:
While women represent over half of the world adult population and
one-third of the official labour force, women perform for nearly two-
thirds of all working hours and receive only one-tenth of the world
income. Women also own less than one percent of world property
(Klein 1987, 72 note 10).
Violence against females is also prevalent in other countries. Violence
includes widespread physical abuse, genital mutilation,1 bride burnings or dowry
deaths, and abuses which "flow from the commodification and exploitation of
female lives (e.g., prostitution, rape, abduction and sale of women and female
children)" (Horn 1992, 250 and 277). The sex trade in Thailand is another
example of the commodification and exploitation of women and girls.
Son preference is widespread. In addition to China and India, "son
preference is also present in other parts of Asia and in North Africa, resulting in
high female mortality, delay in care, higher female malnutrition, and lower female
literacy" (Horn 1992, 262 note 41). Warren (1985) says that in Taiwan, North and
South Korea, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and many of the nations of northern and
central Africa and.the Middle East "sex-preferences among both men and women
are often as high as four to one in favor of males, and sometimes they are even
higher" (16). She also says that son preference remains fairly strong in the
predominantly Roman Catholic nations of Central and South America (18).
Several of the authors in Bennett (1983) discuss reasons for son preference.
Bloom and Grenier (1983) say that boys are physically and culturally different from
girls and "they are not regarded as perfectly substitutable for each other" (115).
Williamson (1983) says boys are wanted to carry on the family name, provide
companionship for the husband, and perhaps improve the familys fortune (131).
She also says that women in some countries are not secure in their marriage and
family until they produce one or more sons (134). In some countries son
preference has to do more with composition and birth order. Williamson says that
Americans rarely want only (or mostly) daughters; the most popular combinations
are one boy and one girl, more boys than girls, or a single boy if only one child
(131). Steinbacher and Holmes (1987) say that
historically, anthropologically, sociologically, and psychologically, the
choices of both men and women have been and remain, as most
recent studies indicate heavily weighted for male firstborn children
They also note that there has been no decline in son preference in the United
States, Europe, or Third World countries (53).
Female neglect is also widespread. Miller (1981) says there is evidence
that females as a group can be viewed as neglected. She presents a recent study
on sex differences in the cause of death throughout the world which reveals that
diarrhea is the predominant medical cause of death among females, particularly in
the Third World countries:
There are several forms of diarrhea which can be fatal, but most
tend to be precipitated and severely aggravated by poor nutrition.
The possibility arises that, in general, females worldwide are less
well nourished and cared for than males (48).
I have attempted to present a concise overview of female infanticide,
female neglect, sex-selective abortion (female feticide), and sex pre-selection tests
as methods of sex selection which are used against females and which contribute
to the devaluation of, and discrimination against, women and girls. Sex selection
is an example of social femicide. I presented this sex selection in relation to
China and India. In Chapter II I discussed the historical and cultural contexts of
female devaluation in China and India through female infanticide, female neglect,
skewed sex ratios, footbinding, purdah, patriarchal social systems, patrilineal and
patrilocal familial systems, and son preference. In Chapter III I discussed in detail
each issue in the current context, and I showed the negative effect that sex
selection has on females in China and India. In Chapter IV I described the actions
taken to combat sex selection in China and India, and I presented the debates and
policy implications regarding sex selection. I also presented the solutions that
have been suggested to eliminate sex selection.
In conclusion, female infanticide, once thought to be a thing of the past,
continues today in China and India. Female neglect and female feticide (sex-
selective abortion) also exist. The skewed sex ratios in both countries provide
evidence that females are systematically being eliminated. And a new technology
- sex pre-selection tests has the potential to further diminish the number of
females. The population policies instituted by the governments of China and India
seem to have aggravated the number of incidences of female infanticide and sex-
selective abortion. Female infanticide, female neglect, and female feticide exist
because son preference is so prevalent in China and India. And son preference is
prevalent because discrimination against females exists.
There is a difference between abortion and female feticide because sex-
selective abortion, used to eliminate female fetuses, is discriminatory. It would
also be discriminatory if sex-selective abortion were used to eliminate male
fetuses. Although women are the ones who usually commit female infanticide and
who abort their female fetuses, they are not to blame for the sex selection
problem. They are often pressured by men to produce a son (even though men
are the ones who determine the sex of the baby). The patriarchal social system,
which perpetuates son preference, daughter disdain, and devaluation of females,
is the cause of sex selection.
There are efforts being made to stop female infanticide and sex-selective
abortion in China and India, but so far there has not been much difference in the
sex ratios. Banning sex-determination tests and sex pre-selection tests would not
completely solve the problem. The idea that females are not worthwhile, that they
are inferior to males, and that they are merely baby-producing machines or sex
objects must be eradicated through education. The enforcement of laws which
abolish dowry and betrothal gifts, child betrothal, infanticide, and sex-determination
tests for selective abortion must be coupled with stiff penalties. And, as a short-
term solution, perhaps material incentives could be used for parents with
daughters as a means to prevent them from eliminating girls through infanticide
and abortion. Incentives should not have to be used to encourage parents to keep
their daughters; however, if this solution would prevent girls from being eliminated,
then it should be considered. 1 think that allowing couples with a daughter to have
another child is doing nothing to solve the issue of son preference. In fact, it is
reinforcing the idea that girls are not as good as boys. But all of these solutions
need to be explored in order to address the issue of sex selection in relation to
China and India, and in relation to other countries.
Sex selection, violence against females, son preference, female neglect,
and the general discrimination against women and girls are prevalent in many
societies2 because the system of patriarchy ensures male control of women
through patriliny and patrilocality, and through
the denial of womens rights to sexual and reproductive autonomy,
ownership and inheritance of property, education, freedom of
movement, gainful economic employment, and political and religious
participation (Warren 1985, 13).
Ideological, structural, and political factors contribute to maintaining the inferior
status of females (Horn 1992, 251). Miller (1981) says culture plays an important
part in male and female roles:
It is culture that dictates the greater worth of males as both
producers and heirs .., and it is culture that ignores and
undervalues the vital, though often invisible, roles that women play
Only by revising the cultural, ideological, political, and economic factors which
devaluate females will social femicide disappear and social equality ensue.
1I would like to discuss the issue of female genital mutilation in more detail,
because to me it represents one of the most horrible forms of violence against
females. Warren says that genital mutilation, also called "female circumcision,"
involves "the complete excision of the clitoris, labia major and labia minora i.e.,
all of the external genitalia" (46). Sometimes only the clitoris is removed. It is
performed by force on girls usually aged eight to twelve by a widwife or female
relative. Anesthetics are often not used, and "the conditions are often unsanitary
in the extreme" (46). The procedure is painful and continues to cause discomfort
through intercourse, infection, and difficulties in childbirth. Female genital
mutilation is practiced in many parts of Africa (e.g., Egypt, Somalia, Nigeria, the
Sudan, Kenya, Mali, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast), and the reasons
given for the custom are beauty, cleanliness, increased sexual pleasure for the
husband, and requirement of the Islamic religion (even though it was practiced
long before the arrival of the Islamic religion in Africa) (45-47). But Warren says
that the "primary function can only be to eliminate womens capacity for sexual
pleasure and thus ensure their sexual purity" because "an unmutilated woman is
presumed to be promiscuous or in danger of becoming so" (47). I see a strong
parallel between female genital mutilation in present-day Africa and the practice of
footbinding in historical China. In both, the excuses of "custom," "tradition," and
"mens sexual pleasure" are/were used to justify the physical torture of women.
Mary Ann Warren, Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection (Totowa, New
Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld, 1985).
Horn discusses Isabelle R. Gunnings work "Arrogant Perception, World
Travelling and Multicultural Feminism: The Case of Female Genital Surgeries," 23
Columbia Human Rights Law Review (1992): 189, in which Gunning "adopts the
more neutral term female genital surgery to avoid the moral overtones of
mutilation and to engage the problem of understanding what she refers to as
culturally challenging practices, that is a practice which 'someone outside the
culture would view as negative largely because they are culturally unfamiliar with
it" (250 note 4). I can understand what Gunning is saying, but, after what I have
read and seen, I cannot agree that it is anything but "negative" to have a
frightened little girl, with her arms and legs pinned down, crying and repeatedly
saying "no" while someone takes a razor blade to her most sensitive body parts.
It is not that I have an "arrogant perception," or that I am "culturally unfamiliar with
it"; it is because I have total compassion for anyone, female or male, who is hurt in
such a manner. Sharon K. Horn, "Female Infanticide in China: The Human Rights
Specter and Thoughts Toward (An)other Vision," Columbia Human Rights Law
Review 23 (Summer 1992): 249-314.
2A recent United Nations study shows the prevalence of universal
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The Human Rights Specter and Thoughts Toward (An)other Vision," Columbia
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