Cash 'can stop 100,000 abortions'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am

The Indian government believes that a new scheme offering poor families a cash incentive to rear their baby daughters, aimed at curbing the aborting of female fetuses, may save 100,000 lives in the first year.

Poor families who rear their daughters will receive 15,500 rupees (HK$3,000) in staggered payments from the time she is born to when she turns 18. The scheme will be introduced in seven states where the male-female ratio is particularly alarming.

The widespread practice of aborting female fetuses - the medical journal The Lancet estimates that 10 million female fetuses have been destroyed in the past 20 years - has resulted in a marked imbalance between the sexes that has become a social concern in India.

In the hardest-hit states such as Punjab, the male-female ratio stands at 793 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Boys are prized for bringing in income, continuing the family name and supporting parents in their old age, while girls are often regarded as a liability because of the dowry that needs to be provided for arranged marriages.

A family receiving the cash incentive will undergo periodic government checks to ensure that their daughter is receiving adequate nutrition, is healthy and goes to school. She cannot marry until the family receives the lump sum of HK$20,000 when she reaches the age of 18.

The government estimates that the scheme can save about 100,000 girls in the first year.

India's Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Choudhury said she hoped the scheme would encourage families to look on girls 'as an asset rather than a liability'. The cash incentive might prove to be a catalyst for change.

'If I'm getting help from the government, I don't mind having a second daughter,' tea stall owner Nitin Raheja said.

'I love my girl but our customs make them a burden. You feed them and clothe them, and pay medical fees and then they leave you when they get married.'

Mr Raheja, who already has one daughter, admits that his wife had an abortion the last time she was pregnant because the fetus was a girl.

In the same week that the scheme was announced, though, two examples of the deep-seated cultural aversion to girls made the headlines.

A woman in Rajkot committed suicide on Wednesday after giving birth to her fourth daughter, reportedly in despair for not having a son.

Some activists are not convinced that monetary aid will help in fixing the problem. 'The preference for boys is not confined to the poor and illiterate. It's across the board. So the scheme won't stop the rich from aborting female fetuses,' said Anoushka Kapoor of the Centre for Social Research.