Female infanticide: The concrete paradigm of violence

By – Quratulain N. Aneeq

The right to life is an inherent right for each individual. Still, Pakistan stands at number six and gender-based violence remains a common practice. This violence begins for some at the time of their birth, known as female infanticide which is the deliberate killing of girl babies. It is also described as gender-selective killing or gendercide. A prospective female child is taken as a liability instead of an asset. While for others it is a never-ending cycle that takes the vicious form of domestic violence, sexual assault, financial abuse, verbal abuse and trafficking. Women have always been perceived as subservient and once they try to stand up to men they become their victim. The World Bank’s 2013-14 Economic Survey found that 60 percent of Pakistanis were surviving on less than two dollars per day. The unstable economic condition demands both sexes work shoulder to shoulder. However the daily headlines are packed with news of female infanticide and cases of ruthless violence. The black ink of newspapers manifest these sinful acts and the twilight skies are calling out for justice and for impartiality.

Rights described female infanticide as the worst form of gender discrimination and urged the UN Human Rights Council to review and discuss the impact of existing strategies and initiatives to address female infanticide and make effective recommendations and programme of actions to eliminate female infanticide and foeticide. International human rights law provides strong legal and moral grounds for prohibiting sex selection, particularly in countries like India where it is widespread. In countries like the UK, where the current main reason to sex-select is for ‘family balancing’, the basis for a prohibition under international human rights law is not as strong, yet several reasons can be put forward to nonetheless prohibit the practice.

In an Islamic republic like Pakistan with poor implimentation of laws this grievous sin is not being tackled properly. Section 338 of the Pakistan Penal Code defines abortion (Isqat-i-Hamal) for the fetus whose organs have not been fully developed. The very next section prescribes punishment for this kind of abortion. If the abortion was performed with the consent of the woman, the person convicted would be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years. If the consent of the woman was not taken, the punishment might extend to ten years. Section 338-B deals with a fetus whose organs have been formed while the abortion was undertaken. In such a case, the offender can be imprisoned up-to seven years in addition to paying Diyat (financial compensation) for the child. Additionally, if a woman dies as a result of abortion, the offender will be punished for causing the death of a person. The issue is demarcated as “endangered sex” and extends globally. In India, there are about 7.1 million fewer girls than boys aged 0-6 years. This is due to prenatal sex determination with subsequent selective abortion of female foetuses.

Enlightenment will only come through the spread of education and improved economic conditions, underpinned by government social and health welfare schemes. With a combination of education and government incentives for girls, the situation could slowly be reversed.

War, sectarian violence, culture and debates on Islamic law have affected the standing of women in a country like Iraq. The country ranks relatively poorly in the 2019 Best Countries for Women, highly discriminates against its women and fosters gender inequality through enduring laws and practices. The gender gap in Iraq is widening with incidents of gender-based violence and limited participation of women and girls in significant fields according to a report from U.N. Women. Furthermore, Egypt is also home to the largest number of women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation, a practice that more than 90 percent of married Egyptian women between ages 15 and 49 have been subjected to, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Population. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. The practice violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

Female infanticide is an extreme form of harassment towards women and to her society and community. Enlightenment will only come through the spread of education and improved economic conditions, underpinned by government social and health welfare schemes. With a combination of education and government incentives for girls, the situation could slowly be reversed. The bias against daughters arises largely because of economic reasons. Sons are viewed as “social security” in areas where resources are scarce, avenues for savings limited, and public support for the elderly non-existent. Daughters, on the other hand, require large dowry payments at the time of marriage. The solution? First, educate the young. Second, provide social security for the elderly. Young folks with higher self-esteem and greater potential on the job market will not have to resort to paying or receiving dowry. And old folks will stop viewing sons as old age insurance.

The government can also mitigate this mindset by “marketing ” the status of women in government and business through film and print media. Families with more girls should be given allowances. Over time the people will accept the fact that females are just as competent as males and may well contribute more financially to the family.