What is Female Foeticide? Meaning & Causes

When the foetus of a girl child is destroyed, it sows the seed of numerable suffering for our future generation, affecting the society as a whole!

Justice Dipak Mishra

From the ages, a girl child is always respected in our society and even considered a reincarnation of our holy goddess. However, with time, they are suffering from numerous problems, such as harassment, rape, etc. Further, the ratio of girls in comparison to boys has reduced significantly in our society. The core reason for this skewed sex ratio is female foeticide. The reduced numerical strength of women in our society is an invitation to other social evils, such as trafficking, polygamy, etc.

In this article, we will discuss the legal provisions surrounding female foeticide in the country. Further, we will also analyse its causes and the plausible ways to eliminate this evil from our society.

What is Female Foeticide?

The term ‘female foeticide’ refers to the sex-selective abortion of a girl child in the mother’s womb. Under this practice, the gender of the fetus is determined through ultrasound scans or other technologies. If the scan shows the fetus of a girl child, it is aborted straight away. It is a shameful practice that is strictly prohibited in our society. However, despite such legal restrictions, it is prevalent in various parts of the country.

Origin of Female Foeticide

It is believed that the practice of female foeticide started getting pace in the decade 1970. At that time, the population of our country was rising at a rapid pace, coupled with an increasing desire to have a male child in the family. In the aspiration of a male child, the couples were giving birth to many other children.

At that time, a suitable alternative that appeared to all the people was to determine the sex of the child in the mother’s womb. If it was related to a female girl child, it was aborted. In the 1980s, ultrasound technology gained popularity, and there was an alarming rise in the cases of female foeticide. However, this practice was strongly opposed by some social activists, which resulted in the enactment of the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, of 1994. Though this act made sex-selective abortion illegal, the practice didn’t stop there.

Causes of Female Foeticide

The main causes of female foeticide in our society can be divided into 2 parts, namely, primary causes and secondary causes.

Primary Causes of Female Foeticide

The primary causes of female foeticide involve –

  1. Patriarchal society
  2. Safety issues
  3. Lack of education

Patriarchal society

The term patriarchal society refers to the dominance of men in making all the important decisions of life. It is believed that men are much more capable than women and they should be entrusted with all the important work, such as protection of property, political decisions, earning money for the family, etc. The work of a woman is limited to remaining in the four walls of the house and serving her husband and children.

The harmful effect of patriarchy can be seen below-

  • Gender discrimination

The notion of a patriarchal society resulted in gender discrimination in all spheres of life. From early childhood, girls are taught that they are inferior to boys and that they can’t perform core physical activities. The seed of toxic masculinity is also planted in the minds of boys. They started looking at girls from an inferior perspective.

  • A girl cannot continue the lineage

It is still a notion in our society that a girl child is the property of others, and she has to leave this home someday after her marriage. Since she is never been treated as a real member of the house, the discrimination becomes evident. The people believe that a girl child is a burden because she cannot carry forward the lineage, which results in increasing sex-selective abortion.

  • The inherent desire of the male child

People believe that having a boy/male child in the family is a symbol of fulfilment. He is looked upon as a prized possession, who will increase the size of the family and will look after the parents in their old age. This desire to have a male child is one of the principal reasons for increasing female foeticide in the country.

Some religious practices also promote misconceptions such as the birth of a male child is a road to heaven. The girls are treated inauspicious and therefore, the sex-selective abortion took place.

  •  Dowry system

The evil of dowry has still not vanished from our society. At the time of marriage, the girl’s family is compelled to give monetary and other valuable ornaments to the boy’s family. The concept of dowry has become a symbol of prestige nowadays.

Thus, the parents, right after the birth of a female child, start thinking about the dowry, which will be demanded at the time of her marriage. Many times, this menace of dowry doesn’t end at the time of marriage as the in-laws even harassed the girl post-marriage.

Safety Issues

It has become a bitter truth that the safety of girls in society has always been a major point of concern for her parents. Regularly, the girls are being subject to harassment, molestation, eve-teasing, etc. It is not safe for a woman to go alone at night.  Sometimes, she becomes subject to heinous and barbaric offences, such as the 2012 Nirbhaya Gang Rape case. Female is being treated as an object to satisfy their sexual desires. Thus, considering this mindset, people sometimes resort to female foeticide.

 Lack of Education

As per a recent survey, more than 25% of the population of the country is completely illiterate. This large-scale illiteracy is one of the core reasons for many social problems and lack of development.

In the absence of education, people are still carrying their orthodox mindset about girls, believing that she is a burden on the family. This illiteracy has resulted in a sharp decline in the sex ratio in various parts of the country.

Secondary Causes of Female Foeticide

The secondary causes of female foeticide involve –

  1. Misuse of technology
  2. Gross corruption in the medical field

Misuse of technology

Though technology is our friend, its misuse can be very harmful to us. Similarly, ultrasound technology was introduced with a bona fide intention of ascertaining the growth of the fetus at the time of pregnancy and other important purposes. However, it started getting used as a tool to determine the sex of an unborn child and abort it subsequently.

Gross corruption in the medical field

The medical field is also filled with corruption. Though it is illegal to determine the sex of an unborn child, some doctors are still doing it for the sake of earning some meagre money. The greed of some doctors has put a black spot on this noble profession.

Laws Governing Female Foeticide in the Country

The first law about abortion in the country was introduced in the year 1971 when the Medical Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was introduced. This act made abortion legal in almost all states and also designated physicians for this purpose. However, at that time, the government didn’t envisage the menace of female foeticide owing to new technology.

After large-scale cases of female foeticide were reported, the government enacted the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT) in 1994. This act was again amended and later known as the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act, 2004.

Under this new law, some groundbreaking amendments were made, such as ultrasound technology being regulated, the establishment of central and state supervisory boards, etc. This new law made provisions for stringent punishment for the offences of sex-selective abortion.

In the case of Centre For Enquiry Into Health And Allied Themes (CEHAT) v. Union Of India & Others, the government issued directions to the central and state governments to implement the provisions of this act in letter and spirit to ensure no such instance takes place.

Further, in the case of the Voluntary Health Association of Punjab v. Union of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India gave direction to map out unregistered clinics in the country, which are indulged in such practice.

The government has also made some policies to improve the sex ratio in the country, such as the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme, Balika Samriddhi Yojana, Ladli Scheme of Haryana, etc.

How to prevent Female Foeticide?

To prevent this social taboo, the most effective way is to educate people. There is a need to change the mindset of the people that a girl child is no longer a burden on the family. Apart from this, the government should ensure effective implementation of the PNDT Act to ensure that no such instance took place. Further, there is a need to keep a strict check on the doctors performing such activities.


The right to life guaranteed by our holy constitution under Article 21 is also applicable to an unborn female foetus that is subject to abortion. The growth of female foeticide has resulted in reduced sex ratio, increasing crime, polygamy, etc.

Though the government has enacted various legislations and adopted numerous policy measures, its effective implementation is still a requirement. The government should make the public aware of the equality and the achievement of girl children in various sectors of society. India is a progressive country, and for its effective development, both males and females need to contribute equally with their best efforts and abilities.

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