03/06/2006, 00.00
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New Delhi fights "monstrous" crime of female foeticide

In the lead-up to 8 March, the New Delhi governor has launched a campaign against selective abortions. Activists warn: Laws against the practice have been around for years, but no one has ever been convicted.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/ICNS) – The Delhi state government has launched a campaign to fight the alarming rate of female foeticide among its people, who prefer sons to daughters, as do many other Indian states. Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, told a function marking International Women's Day that female foeticide has "become alarming": only 814 girls are born for every 1,000 boys in Delhi.

The 2001 census showed Delhi's sex ratio was 865 for the 0-6 year age group, against the national average of 927. If this decline continues, the number of girls born is likely to go well below 800 in Delhi by the next census, say experts. The UN Population Fund sets the normal sex ratio at birth as 950 girls for 1,000 boys.

Dikshit said her government was determined to check the practice of female foeticide. The governor admitted that the phenomenon had assumed "monstrous proportions in most of the northern states" and that this "is not only a blot on civilised society, but also a crime".

According to the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the main cause of such a high number of abortions is a cultural preference for male sons. Studies suggest the practice is more prevalent among educated people in urban areas. In Indian culture, males are preferred because they carry on the family name, become a source of income and can look after their parents when they become old. Women, on the other hand, are destined to leave their family and they are expensive, because of the dowry they must receive when they get married.

Indian activists say the figures are all the more alarming because they "show that girls are getting eliminated before birth, despite a ban on sex-selective abortions". Since 1994, it has been illegal in India to determine the sex of the fetus and to abort it on this ground. Now, a 2003 amendment to the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act is in force. But no one has ever been convicted. "The zero-conviction rate shows that the crime is not getting the attention it deserves," says Sabu George, a local activist.

Dikshit says foeticide ranks among the "biggest social evils". "Enforcing a law is not enough," she says. "You have to change people's mindset and empower women."

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