The Cost of a Daughter

by Tehmina Arora

33,260. This number is the approximate cost of 10g of gold in the city of Delhi. Sadly, it is also the number that will determine how many girl children that are born in India, and how they are cared for.

According to research, the cost of a daughter’s marriage including having to pay an expensive dowry, is the single biggest factor in the minds of a parents when they decide to have an sex selective abortion. This coupled with the cultural norms that restrict a daughter’s access to property, education and most all agency, proves to be noxious cocktail for the little girls in our country.  

The 2011 census of India revealed that there were only 919 girls per 1000 boys in the 0-6 age group across India.  According to WHO, the normal child sex ratio falls in the range of 943-980 girls per 1000--- boys and any value lower than that is reflective of the gender discrimination against the girl child and girl infanticide, female foeticide cases. Conservative estimates place the number of girls missing from our society at millions.  

And this is not only a rural problem. Research suggests that the chances of survival for a second born girl after a first daughter are less if the family is well educated and rich. These families live in urban areas where they have access to ultrasound scans and can afford the price for the abortion. According the 2011 census, in Delhi, the child sex ratio stands at a dismal 871 girls for very 1000 boys. South Delhi district being the  worst offender.

In poorer communities, where there aren’t many ultrasound clinics, daughters are instead abandoned or killed after being born, or lost through neglect.  According to a Lancet study on under-5 mortality rate (U5MR) of women in India published in June 2018, estimated 239 000 excess deaths (169 000–293 000) per year in that age category. That would mean every minute approximately 27 baby girls ( ages 0-5 years) die due to neglect, malnourishment and lack of access to medical facilities.

More than 90% of districts had excess female mortality, but the four largest states in northern India (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh) accounted for two-thirds of India's total number.

The researchers found that the gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn't simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born.

Savita, a young mother, explained this, “after my second daughter was born, my husband and in laws started abusing me…I had not been able to give them a son.” Then, the third daughter was born and the violence against Savita and the children grew more brutal. “When my little baby girl fell ill and finally died, the violence stopped,” she said.   

Yet, in spite of these terrible statistics and heart breaking stories, very little is being done to implement the Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 (PCPNDT Act). The PCPNDT Act makes gender determination illegal and puts the onus on the medical fraternity to close monitor all ultrasounds.  Although prenatal sex-detection and sex-selective abortion are illegal, many clinics continue to provide these services in a clandestine manner across the country.

As per a press release by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,  according the Quarterly Progress Reports up to December, 2017 submitted by States/ UTs the implementation of the Act in the States and UTs has resulted in the filing of total 3986 court cases and sealing and seizing of total of 2007 ultrasound machines by the District Appropriate Authorities for the violation under the PCPNDT Act across the country. However, the report also noted that from 1994 till December 2017, only 449 convictions have been secured under the PCPNDT Act and following the convictions, the medical licenses of only 136 doctors were suspended/canceled.

The 10th Common Review Mission in its 2016 Report on the National Health Mission noted that, “The level of implementation of PC-PNDT Act is abysmal. Lack of witnesses and insufficient evidence are cited as major reasons that result in cases falling through, thereby resulting in low conviction rates. The Act is inadequately used while drafting court complaints and the full force of the law is often not brought to bear in prosecution.”

Sex-selective abortions are a scandal of epidemic proportions and we cannot sit idly by while girls vanish for our cities, our neighborhoods and our families. We need to adopt a model of LIFE for all girls - Love, Inheritance, Freedom and Equality. The girls in our families and those yet unborn, need advocates who will love them, ensure that they have equal rights to family property as their brothers, their freedoms are protected and promoted and that in all things they are treated as equal dignity and respect.

*Tehmina Arora is a lawyer practicing in the area of constitutional law and human rights.

  1. Excess under-5 female mortality across India: a spatial analysis using 2011 census data, Vol 6 June 2018 available at
Vanishing Girls is a campaign initiated by ADF India to raise awareness against the practise of sex-selective abortions and to advocate for effective implementation of the Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.
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