Tag Archives: foeticide

Brides purchased, then exploited in Haryana, Punjab

Decades of unchecked sex-selective abortions have made the once fertile States of Punjab and Haryana suffer a drought of brides, making human-trafficking a lucrative and expanding trade. Often projected as a voluntary marriage, every year, thousands of young women and girls are lured into the idea of a happy married life with a rich man in Punjab or Haryana. Sadly most ‘purchased brides’ are exploited, denied basic rights, duplicated as maids, and eventually abandoned.

Only solution

With skewed sex ratios (Punjab-893, Haryana-877 females per 1,000 males) it is impossible to find a bride for each man, and ‘importing a bride’ has become the only solution. Also, with the tradition of not marrying within the same village and eligible girls marrying the wealthiest suitor, often NRIs, the majority of men in villages are left unmarried and often addicted to drugs.

“What is wrong in marrying a poor girl? I demanded no dowry, rather her family’s social and economic position has improved,” said an agitated Prakash Singh of Harsola village in Kaithal (Haryana), when asked why he married a 19-year-old girl hailing from a poor village from Assam. Interestingly, Mr. Singh has three brothers and no sister; he does not believe that there is any dearth of women in his village.

“There were no eligible girls in our village or social circle. After my son turned 35, we realised that unless we accept a non-Punjabi girl he would never be married and no one would carry the family name forward; so we had to make arrangements,” said Mahinder Singh, an elderly man in Pohlo Majra, Fatehgarh Sahib (Punjab). The migration might seem to be a measure to correct the gender imbalance, but the ultimate goal is producing sons.

“Marriage to an imported bride makes caste, language and culture immaterial as long as the price is paid to the girl’s family and a male child is born. Depending on the age, looks and virginity of a girl, grooms pay anywhere from Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 300,000,” said Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, a non-governmental organisation working on the issue.

The obvious need gives the practice a social sanction and makes it look like a social service: Sushma Kaur of Pohlo Majra, who married a Sikh man 15 years elder to her, calls it a ‘blessing.’ “My uncle arranged the match, it was difficult in the beginning because of the new language and the culture, but my husband took care of me…My village in Bengal has an excess of females and no one to care for them, and it is a great service if I can arrange a matrimonial match. Ever since I got married, 10 years ago, over a dozen girls have followed me from Bengal,” she says with pride. She added that none of the girls were ill-treated; however, it was not unheard of.

A field study on the impact of sex ratio on the pattern of marriages in Haryana by Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan Kendra covering over 10,000 households, revealed that over 9,000 married women in Haryana were bought from other States. The study which covered 92 villages of Mahendragarh, Sirsa, Karnal, Sonepat, and Mewat districts said that most of the people accepted it as a common practice, but denied having bought a bride in their family.

Most untraceable

“In every village there are over 50 girls that have been bought; some of them as young as 13 and a very small percentage of the ‘sold for marriage’ women are found to be living a married life. Most are untraceable or exploited or duplicated as domestic servants by the agents or men who marry/buy them. There are also instances of girls being resold to other persons after living a married life for a few years,” the study added.

Most of them come from poverty-ridden villages of Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa, because their families need money; and despite the prevalence of the dowry system in the north Indian states, men are ready to pay for a wife.


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declining sex ratio forces ‘import’ of brides

CHANDIGARH: Declining sex ratios have compelled farmers of Punjab to “import” brides from states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh leading to large-scale trafficking of women in the State. Usually, the girls are between 12 and 17 years of age.

“There isn’t any choice. Either you buy a bride or remain a bachelor who has no sons to inherit his property,” says Malkeet Singh (27) of Fatehgarh Sahib district. Scarcity of marriageable girls in his village, 40 km from here, compelled him to shop for a bride. He followed in the footsteps of his uncles and paid Rs.25,000 for his wife from a poverty-ridden village in Bihar.

According to the 2001 census, Punjab has a sex ratio of 793 girls for 1,000 boys. Fatehgarh Sahib has the country’s worst sex ratio of 754 girls for 1,000 boys (0-6 age bracket).

“Decades of sex-determination tests followed by female foeticide have resulted in an even more shameful sociological phenomenon wherein women have been reduced to son-producing machines. Women who fail to produce sons are sent back, sold or abandoned,” says Manvinder Kaur, Reader at the Centre for Women Studies, Punjab University.

No data is available on the number of girls trafficked into Punjab, but every village has a number of “bought brides”.

The trade is being carried on by the second and third generation victims. Malkeet’s aunt, Kusum Devi, also from Bihar, managed his alliance. “Marrying their daughters is a relief for the families, especially when they receive money instead of having to pay a dowry.”

According to Ameer Sultana of the Centre for women Studies at Punjab University: “Girls who are bought from poor homes are never considered equal. They have no rights and even after many years she knows that she is a commodity, which is used and often shared by all the men in the family.”

According to Ms. Kaur, “The females trafficked into this region will not correct the sex ratio as they are meant to produce only males. Education is not a solution as most of the foeticide cases reported are of educated women. We need a massive drive to make people aware of the ground realities because both tradition and technology have started to favour female foeticide. Going by the rate at which girls are going missing from Punjab and Haryana they would be a rare sight soon.”

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not all girls get to live in Punjab…

“She was thrown in the garbage dump outside the village for dogs that ate her. Her only fault — she was the fourth girl born in a poor family,” said Harshinder Kaur, paediatric doctor here, recalling the first time she witnessed discrimination against female infants in Punjab’s rural side.

“Over a decade ago, I couldn’t save that infant and ever since I try to speak for the girls who never lived,” said Dr. Kaur, who has been awarded by numerous governments across the globe for her work in eradicating the evil.

Rampant female foeticide, the shameful act of selectively aborting the female foetus due to non-preference, continues to push the sex ratio of Punjab against females; unfortunately, the evil is more prevalent among the educated, the rich and the urban bred.

The 2006 National Family Health Survey shows that prosperity does little to curb the evil as Punjab’s overall sex ratio at birth (considered a more accurate indicator of female foeticide) was 776 against 793 in 2001. In urban areas, it goes further down to 761:1,000. “The data clearly contradicts the belief that people don’t want daughters only due to the expense of dowry and marriage, the practice is more popular amongst the prosperous urban population who commit the crime to avoid perceived social disgrace of not having a son and escaping property division,” said Parveen Singhal, retired professor, who continues to work on the issue.

Education too has failed in curbing the practice as children born to mothers having Class 10 or higher education had a significantly lower sex ratio at 683:1,000 than illiterate mothers at 869:1,000. “My study on girl students of higher secondary schools in urban areas revealed that 78.8 per cent did not want to give birth to a girl child. I was shocked to find that educated girls from urban areas can discriminate against their own kind. They cited the deplorable condition of their mothers and restriction imposed on girls from family as the main reason,” said Dr. Kaur, adding that until the social status of women changed, the mindset would continue.

Chandigarh, the city with the highest standards of living in the country, has a sex ratio of 777:1,000 and Fatehgarh Sahib district has the lowest ratio of 754:1,000.

Examining the sex ratios at birth of second child makes it evident that son preference is affecting family-building strategies. The sex ratio of last births (number of females born per 1,000 males when the first child is a female ) ranges from a low of 504 in Punjab, to 540 in Haryana, and 572 in Himachal Pradesh indicating a regional spread. However, Punjab’s sex ratio of the second child when the first child is a male, goes up to a healthy 1,003:1,000, in other words, after one son, families are less inclined to go in for sex determination tests and foeticide.

Kamaljeet Gill, Professor of Economics at Punjabi University, said: “Even today, birth of a girl child is viewed as a bad investment for future but the poor still find the cost of raising a child to be nominal with respect to the income that the child might generate and also they cannot afford the cost of tests and abortion. The reform needs to begin with the prosperous, educated class which abort a female child due to their narrow patriarchal view, where sons are considered to be the only hope of old age and even after life.”

“Sanitary option”

“Unchecked technology combined with affordability has made the practice a norm, and high and middle-income groups have completely shifted to female foeticide as a more ‘sanitary option’ and female infanticide too is practised more in the form of abandoning few-days-old infants in bushes, public toilets, parks or garbage bins but the aim has not changed, no one wants to be son-less,” said Dr. Kaur.

“Statutory laws such as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act are not enforced strictly and the few doctors that are convicted soon open their clinics. With such ineffective implementation of laws government agencies, religious leaders, politicians or non-governmental organisations, no one can sway people to abandon the practice,” she said.

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