From Female to Daughter and Granddaughter Feticide

From Female to Daughter and Granddaughter Feticide
Respected Indian Economist and Philosopher Amartya Sen has argued the importance of analyzing social and cultural influence in India’s female feticide problem, beyond a simplistic economic analysis (2005: p.ix, p.230)1. International Women’s Day 2017 presents us with the perfect opportunity to reconsider this. While the problem of female feticide in India is well discussed, International Women’s Day 2017 presents us with an opportunity to reconsider the way we look at this problem. With a wait until 2021 for India’s next census to be conducted, we can only rely on the previous census which informs of an imbalance of 927 girls to 1000 boys2. While multiple factors can cause this imbalance (i.e. malnutrition of girls); the issue of sex-selective abortions is well documented, yet there is little focus on the other identities imposed on the unborn child, beyond her gender.
Beyond the epithets that are placed on males and females which generate a culture of preference and dis-preference, and the feminine identity ascribed to a fetus, there is often little focus on the family structure in analyses of the problem. Two noteworthy studies may prove useful as a starting point for further investigation. Bhagat, Laskar and Sharma’s research in Delhi slums finds an increasing son-preference with increasing age among women, with adult women revealing such pressure primarily comes from their mother-in-law to carry out female feticide (2012: pp.96-100)3. Such gerontocratic hierarchies were also found by Vedpathak et al. in Maharashtra, discovering that 37.85% of women justified female feticide, with mothers-in-law being the greatest pressurizing family member (2013: p.1056)4.


Both studies confirm the primary reason for this being propagation of the family name and dependence in old age, which is already well-known. Yet this doesn’t allow us to conclude that mothers-in-law are the primary decision makers behind female feticide, especially since the IHDS demonstrates 1.8% senior women of households surveyed play a role in deciding the number of children5. Study of family structure in affecting sex-ratios – particularly in relation to women’s treatment towards other women – therefore clearly warrants further research. The lack of focus on the family structure however, means that the identity imposed on the unborn child not fully realized in current debates.


Professionals from all fields rightly acknowledge the feminine identity imposed on the foetus which perpetuates the imbalanced sex-ratio outcome, but there is little acknowledgement of the other identities imposed on the fetus – particularly by the family. The call for further research in this area therefore may warrant us to reconsider the language we use, moving from ‘female feticide’ to ‘granddaughter and daughter feticide’. Acknowledging all identities imposed on the fetus and its perceived threat to the family, and possibly mothers-in-law particularly, may be powerful in bolstering and personalizing existing campaign efforts. Let’s hope we soon also begin to hear ‘poti bachao, poti padhao‘ (save the granddaughter, educate the granddaughter).

[1] Sen, A. (2005) The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity, London: Allen Lane.
[2] UNICEF INDIA ‘Female Foeticide in India’
[3] Bhagat, N., Laskar, A.R. & Sharma, N. (2012) ‘Women’s Perception about Sex Selection in an Urban Slum in Delhi’ Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology 30, 1: pp.92-104.
[4] Vedpathak, V., Kakrani, V., Nagaonkar, A., Deo, D., Dahire, P. & Kawalkar, U. (2013) ‘Gender Preference and Awareness Regarding Sex Determination Among Pregnant Women – A Hospital Based Study’. International Journal of Medical Science and Public Health 2, 4: pp.1054-1057.
[5] India Human Development Survey-II (IHDS-II), 2011-12

John Harvey
John is a former UN Women (South Asia MCO) intern and freelance writer. His clients include Huffington Post and WSSCC (Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council). John holds a bachelor’s degree in the study of religions, and master’s degree in development studies from SOAS (University of London).