Infanticide is a significant yet controversial topic of discussion between different groups. These different groups argue about the morality of certain forms of infanticide, especially abortion. This is a topic that relates to the ethical, social, and cultural aspects of humanity. Some arguments validate infanticide to protect the lives of would-be mothers from undergoing fatal procedures while others deem it unethical to abort a fetus. These arguments come from various perspectives and individuals with different motivations. Aside from abortion, female infanticide is another form of infanticide which roots in gender bias and lack of education. This practice is popular in impoverished regions and has caused the untimely deaths of young female children. Stopping female infanticide practices is a necessary step for humans to grow as a species and overcome unhealthy traditions.
Before tackling female infanticide, it is best to form a standard definition of the act. Infanticide is the illegal or criminal act of killing children and infants. According to Humanium.org, infanticide occurs when an individual kills a child under a year old. The act can be active or passive. An active act is a physical or direct practice of killing a child. Some parents may practice infanticide through suffocation, physical abuse, or forcing a child to ingest poisonous substances. Alternatively, passive infanticide can include neglecting a sick child or allowing them to get sick and die. Infanticide can happen to a male or female child and can have various causes that range from economic to psychological. However, female infanticide tends to be a more common practice due to various causes (Humanium.org). These causes vary from sociological to cultural factors.
Causes of Female Infanticide
Male Child Preference
One of the most common causes of female infanticide is the preference for male children. Parents from poorer region prefer male children that can do manual labor and enter the fields of agriculture and fisheries. Parents from these regions aim to achieve financial stability from the potential wage that a male child can earn. There is also the notion of males having the benefit of higher salaries than females which further influences gender preference. Religious beliefs, such as the Hindus’ “Laws of Manu” states that a man must have his son light his funeral pyre to receive redemption (qtd. in Ansari). This leads parents into wanting male children and tempt them into committing female infanticide. This is especially true for poor families that cannot sustain more than one child. Poverty, cultural beliefs, and financial influence enforce male preference to certain regions which often leads to female infanticide.
The dowry system from various cultures is another cause of female infanticide. The dowry system is a practice where the woman or her family offers a large value of possession to the husband or his family. This is a practice during marriages to ensure the safety of the wife and avoid the husband’s family to mistreat her (Britannica). Regions with a dowry system often have the tradition of having the wife live with the husband’s family which further enforces the practice. Due to this system, parents with female children must offer a portion of their wealth to another family. While richer families may have no issue with this practice, poorer parents will have to find various ways to obtain enough dowry. This pressure can force parents to commit female infanticide and avoid the problem of offering dowry. Additionally, the dowry system benefits parents with male children as they will receive a considerable amount of wealth from the marriage simply due to their child being a male. This further broadens the influence of the dowry system on the higher rate of female infanticide.
Government legislation like China’s previous one-child policy is a contributing factor to the high rate of female infanticide. The one-child policy was a government program to control China’s rapidly growing population. The government utilized various methods, such as promoting contraceptives, financial incentives for compliance, forced abortions, and other sanctions (Britannica). Since traditional parents preferred male children due to financial benefits, carrying the family name, and are much more respected individuals in the country; the policy led to an increased rate of female infanticide and abortion. Chinese parents began abandoning female children in orphanages and the streets. Some actively killed their children by inserting needles into the infant’s body. The needles could then pierce vital organs and kill the children. However, some of these acts were ineffective and some female Chinese adults discovered that they have multiple needles inside their bodies. This was just one form of female infanticide that resulted from the one-child policy. There are other means that are more effective and inhumane that parents utilized due to their preference for a male heir.
Technological innovations have also contributed to the practice of female infanticide. The invention of ultrasound machines allowed doctors and parents to identify a child’s gender while it is still inside the womb. This allowed parents that wanted to have a male child to consider abortion if the fetus is female. Starting in 1994 the Indian government legislated various regulations regarding the use of ultrasound machines such as the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act. Currently, India is the most unsafe country for women due to high fatalities from unsafe abortions (Vaze, 2021). The government legislated the regulations since parents began using ultrasound machines to verify fetus gender. Indian parents prefer male children and are willing to undergo unsafe and unsanitary procedures to commit abortions of female fetuses. While the government regulations highlighted the issue regarding gender preference, it was ineffective as female infanticide and abortion rates are still high.
Gender preference, dowry system, government regulations, and technological misuse are just some of the more obvious reasons behind female infanticide. There are varying degrees of economic, social, cultural, and personal factors that influence the causes mentioned earlier. Reexamining cultural practices and beliefs can be a step towards the solution for female infanticide while future government legislation can ensure the regulation of medical practices that may result in active or passive female infanticide. Addressing these causes is important in reducing the rate of female infanticide and allowing society to progress forward.
Ways to Address Female Infanticide
The most important factors to address are people’s beliefs and cultural traditions. The dowry system, for example, does not only pressure parents with female children to pay a sum of wealth but also encourages others to raise male children to receive the dowry. This practice and similar forms have caused female infanticide for centuries. Governments and experts must aim to educate them and persuade them to reevaluate their patriarchal culture that leads to mass female infanticide. China’s one-child policy led to children growing up with needles inside their bodies. Their parents failed to murder them and in their adult life, they are experiencing the consequences of outdated traditions. They have to undergo surgeries to have the needles removed and avoid fatal injuries. The historical traditions that a patriarchal society once created are still inflicting pain to those who have survived it. A change in belief and allowing traditional parents to perceive a different perspective can help reduce the rate of female infanticide.
Educating Patriarchal Communities
While educating traditional communities about the dangers of their beliefs, the government and experts should also educate them about the importance of having a healthy male and female ratio in society. Having a balance in the male and female population is necessary to ensure the stability of a community. While traditional parents prefer male children due to their physical prowess and higher financial potential, they tend to ignore that females are future mothers that will nurture and raise the next generation. It is common knowledge that only women can bear children. A society that ignores this fact and prefers to kill future mothers is unethical and simple-minded. They are incapable of understanding the natural balance and foolishly strip future mothers from their future families. Parents that commit female infanticide due to personal preference do not only kill their children but also take away achievements and potential that their child could have attained. They do not only take away their children but they take away someone that could have been a president, a doctor, a leader, and most of all, a mother.
Aside from educating communities, educating young girls and adult women can be effective in addressing female infanticide. As mentioned earlier, females are the only humans that can give birth. This means that parents that commit female infanticide are heterosexual partners. The husband and wife may agree in committing the act since they prefer a male child. Educating women about their rights and roles in society can help ignite discussions between parents. Traditions like the Hindus’ “Laws of Manu” can pressure a male from an impoverished background to commit female infanticide and try to produce male offspring. An educated female who is aware of women’s rights will not allow her husband to murder a child due to gender preference. However, educated women tend to prefer male children and only independent-minded women tend to prefer female children (Ansari). This means that women’s education must include motivating females to be more independent. With the increasing popularity of feminist movements, women can easily develop independent-mindedness.
Providing Equal Rights
Male preference is a result of the unequal opportunities between male and female individuals. Certain job positions and companies prefer male candidates due to various reasons. There are also arguments regarding the gender pay gap where men earn higher than women in the same careers and titles. The education of communities may help in providing equal rights and demotivate certain parents to commit female infanticide. Educating women about their rights can also help in empowering them to ask for fair wages and opportunities. Additionally, groups like the scientific community should inspire young girls to pursue certain fields that are commonly male-dominated. Actions like these can be a huge step in human progress and the development of a healthy society.
The failure of India’s Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act to address female infanticide highlighted the mistake of focusing on the wrong aspect of the issue. The act regulated medical professionals and required them to acquire proper certifications for handling ultrasound machines. The Act resulted in parents undergoing unsafe abortion procedures in unsanitary environments. Parents were willing to undergo abortion outside of medical facilities which resulted in an increased female fatality rate in India. For laws to be effective, the government should establish regulations regarding unhealthy traditions like the dowry system. They should create policies that provide equal opportunities to all genders and in the education of traditional communities. Strict laws that punish parents for committing female infanticide can help the account but may simply repeat the failure of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act. The laws and policies should focus on educating and providing benefits to parents to avoid female infanticide commitment rather than punish those who have already committed the act.
Addressing female infanticide practices is a necessary step for the growth of society and overcoming unhealthy traditions. The act roots in male preference, patriarchal systems, government legislation, and technology abuse. Solving the issue requires individuals to reexamine practices from old-aged patriarchal cultures like the dowry system. The government and other experts must create efforts to educate traditional communities and abolish the male-preference culture. Governments must ensure to never repeat mistakes like the one-child policy and unnecessary regulation of medical equipment. Most importantly, women must become aware of their rights and reject gender-biased traditions. They must become independent thinkers and fight against female infanticide and those who support it. The young girls of today are the cherishing mothers of tomorrow and communities must come together to protect and empower them.
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