Some Indian laws reinforce gender inequality, U.N. study finds

Thu Nov 14, 2013 1:05pm EST
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By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI, Nov 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Some Indian laws promote a preference for sons over daughters, the United Nations said on Thursday in a report that highlights the country's struggle to reverse a long-term decline in the number of girls.

Bans on child marriage, pre-natal sex selection tests and dowries are poorly enforced, while laws excluding daughters and widows from inheriting land still exist, a study by the U.N. World Population Fund (UNFPA) found.

"This study is significant because it holds up a mirror to the laws that overtly or covertly fail to address discrimination or promote it," Lise Grande, U.N. Resident Coordinator in India, told activists and reporters at the launch in New Delhi.

India has skewed child sex ratios that rights campaigners describe as alarming. The number of girls under six years old has fallen for the past 50 years and there are now 919 girls to every 1,000 boys, against 976 in 1961, according the 2011 census.

Experts say a strong preference for sons is the root cause behind the uneven ratios, with some parents taking illegal gender tests to abort female fetuses.

Twelve million Indian girls have been aborted in the last three decades, a 2011 study in the British medical journal Lancet found.

Other girls die due to preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea, because they are sidelined in favor of their male siblings when it comes to access to health care and nutrition.

Kirti Singh, a lawyer and author of the U.N. study entitled "The Law and Son Preference in India: A Reality Check", said a lack of political will meant many gender laws are not enforced.   Continued...

Surrogate mothers (L-R) Daksha, 37, Renuka, 23, and Rajia, 39, pose for a photograph inside a temporary home for surrogates provided by Akanksha IVF centre in Anand town, about 70 km (44 miles) south of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad August 27, 2013. REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal