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Worthless Daughters

“People don't want daughters because they are not helpful to the family -· they leave the family when they marry. Daughters are useless! Unworthy! It is sons who are able to inherit assets...”·

Gender Discrimination Plagues India and the Far East

Female infanticide. Lack of education. Overwork. Domestic abuse. Dowry murders. Skewed male-to-female population ratios. Higher child mortality rates for girls due to neglect and malnutrition. Female feoticide (abortion) based on ultrasound accessibility...

What do all these point to?

Discrimination against women and girls.


Gender discrimination is widespread throughout Asia, despite social and legal reforms to end and prevent it.·

A report by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) on Son Preference and Daughter Neglect,· states that one of the biggest concerns in India with regard to son preference is that decades of policy efforts have not achieved positive change.

In fact, worsening sex ratios indicate the situation is deteriorating rather than improving.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences last December estimated that China's male population at marriageable age will be 24 million more than female counterparts in 2020.

Other studies estimate that number to be upwards of 30 million. Experts worry about social unrest that will accompany this growing gender disparity.

“An imbalanced sex ratio is widely found in countries and cultures that favor boys,” -- Prof. Zhai Zhenwu, Renmin University of China , Beijing.


Why do people discriminate against women and girls?

Thanks to technologies which facilitate sex determination,· potentially millions of females have never seen the light of day, creating a serious sex ratio imbalance within the societies they would have been born.

Why are the lives of women who bear daughters made utterly miserable through abuse by husbands, in-laws, and even their own families, driving many women to commit suicide?

And what of the girls who are allowed to live – why must they face discrimination in the form of poor nutrition and health, little or no education, and perhaps emotional and physical abuse?

These manifestations of gender discrimination are likely rooted in son preference.


A woman is called “X”'s mother. If the firstborn is not a son, she will be renamed as soon as she bears a son , because being called a boy's mother is much more prestigious than a girl's mother.·

A study on son preference revealed strong parallels between China, India, and South Korea in their trends and patterns of discrimination against girls, motivated by the desire to have more sons than daughters. People discriminate between the sexes in different ways:

  • before conception -· continuing childbearing until reaching their desired number of sons then stopping.
  • during pregnancy – sex-selective abortion
  • at birth – sex selective infanticide
  • during early childhood – through neglect and other mechanisms

Fertility decline and availability of sex-selective technology both work to raise discrimination against female children.


Family systems are a primary factor in son preference.

China, South Korea and India· – especially NW India, are rigidly patrilineal: passing on the main productive assets through the male line.

Women are given movable goods in the form of dowry or inheritance, which restricts their ability to sustain their economic level without being attached to a man.

In southern India,· it easier for women to act as independent social and legal entities due to less rigidity in their concept of gender roles.

Those who prefer sons to daughters argue that sons are needed for old-age support,· continuing the family line, and hard, physical labor on the farm.

South Korean women are commonly mistreated if they do not have sons. The husband might take to drinking, womanizing, and maltreating his wife. Parents in-law might add pressure of their own, and in some cases, threaten to disinherit the husband if he does not have a son. And one son is not enough.

A woman must keep her mother in-law on her side, to minimize maltreatment if she is unable to have sons, and for domestic harmony as a whole.

In China, the combination of strict population controls, and the traditional expectation that daughters will leave their families when married and care for their husband’s parents, has led many parents to either abort female fetuses or abandon their baby girls. A woman without a son is vulnerable to terrible taunts by others in her community.

Economic Debt

Daughters in India are associated with economic debt.·

Dowry costs are often a major disincentive for raising girls. The bride may not live long if the demands of her greedy in-laws are not met by her family.

The Chill of Kerosene

Imagine a young Indian woman who just got married with all pomp and splendor in a grand event celebrated over several days by friends and family. Fresh flowers. Fine food. Fun. Frolic. Festivities. A beautiful bride with a full life in front of her — a life filled with a rich mix of many joys, some setbacks and a few delightful children. Now imagine somebody pouring kerosene over her. Kerosene makes her feel cold as it draws out the heat from her body. And then they set her on fire. Now imagine these murderous blazes flaring up 25,000 times a year…yes, that is your India Today. –

Left out of the social order, women's only value in the household are as labor contributors and vessels of procreation...for sons. Even if women have paid employment which helps to increase their decision-making power within a household, it does not mean daughters would be more welcome.

“One son is worth ten daughters” – exultant South Korean mother of a newborn boy

So strong is the desire for sons, that if a woman bears a daughter, the pressure to become pregnant again in the hopes of a son is great.

In India, many women are driven to suicide – often self-immolation; a better alternative to them than living with daily abuse from their in-laws. On a daily basis, due to the tradition of women eating last and least throughout their lives, they are often overworked and underfed –even when pregnant and lactating, thus giving birth to unhealthy children.

Coming from an affluent family or marrying into one does not protect a woman from discrimination.

In fact, money can facilitate abuse. Access to advance technology—whether in the form of ultrasound technology to determine the sex of a fetus, high-tech gadgets to harass and stalk, or computers to monitor activities or tamper accounts – all can be used to abuse a woman, especially if she has not produced a son.

Male preference runs so deep across all sectors of society, that· women have little control over their lives, not least of all, their reproductive health. Society does not care about women in spite of anti-discrimination laws on the books.



Dr.-Mitu-Khurana“The life of a female has no value, but the sham of the family must be maintained at all costs."

Dr. Mitu Khurana · entered into a marital nightmare when she married in 2004.

On the third day after her marriage, her mother in-law told her that the family never liked her, but that they agreed to the match as a compromise – the compromise was because of her husband's increasing age, according to her mother in-law.

Mitu was kept under total house arrest, apart from her work at the hospital. She couldn't even go to the local market after work. Her husband ignored her, and if he did talk, it was usually to shout at her. Both husband and mother-in-law verbally abused her, in addition to dowry demands made by her mother in-law.

“Whenever my husband used to abuse me , my mother in law would tell me that I should silently listen to all abuses because I was a woman, and in their house, women don't speak”

In 2005, she became pregnant. Her husband and mother in-law increased their verbal· and physical abuse upon her.· Though she· was on complete bed rest as advised by doctors due to threatened abortion, she was expected to do all the household work, as there was no servant in the house.

Then in her 6th week of pregnancy, her in-laws fed her egg-laden cake, knowing she was allergic to egg. She fell ill and was taken to a hospital, against her wishes to be treated at home.· There at the hospital, the doctor advised a K.U.B. (kidney, ureter, bladder) ultrasound, but the report barely mentions K.U.B, and instead mentions fetal ultrasound. Husband and mother in-law were present to discover the sex of the fetuses.

Mitu was carrying twin daughters.

According to Mitu her mother in-law repeatedly asked that at least one child be killed in-utero.

After their birth, Mitu tried to return to her in-law's house, where the abuse toward her continued.

I had no help in looking after children. There was no love or respect for children or me. I was not even sure my children and I would be safe there. My mother in law deliberately pushed down my 4-month-old daughter from the staircase and pretended it was an accident. Fortunately I was able to hold her carrying cot and save her harm. They never showed any love or affection towards them. Their grandparents & aunts have rejected them totally.”

Today, thanks to Mitu's parents who stand by her and with whom she and her daughters live, her girls are happy and doing well in school. But they are aware of the tensions that plague their mother.

Illegal Ultra-Sound

Mitu is the first woman in India to file a case under· the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, in which it is illegal to use ultrasound for sex-determination. However, as with all her complaints, delays such as repeated adjournments, delays at the police level, and no interim protection orders, have held her cases in limbo.

The judiciary system is indifferent to Mitu; first her in-laws harassed her, then police and government agencies, now the judiciary – all of whom side with her husband, ask her to withdraw her cases, and accuse her of being selfish, of only wanting to harass her in-laws and bring publicity for her own ego.

What Mitu wants most is her daughters' safety, and is asking people worldwide through petitions to help protect them from their abusive father.

To bring awareness to the judiciary system that he is a threat to their safety as long as he has not been convicted. In their eyes, the father has the natural right to visit them, even if he previously tried to kill them.



For those girls not aborted, they may be abandoned at the doors of orphanages, such as in China; or similarly, cradle homes, the Indian government's latest initiative to wipe out female feticide and infanticide.


They may grow up in a home, despite societal gender discrimination, watching their brother(s) being indulged and loved with every means that their their parents can afford.

Married ...or Killed..

Early marriage is one fate some girls face, at their parents' wishes. In parts of India, they may become a victim of an honor killing by their own kin – if they dare to marry outside their caste or clan against their parents' wishes.


Nine million more girls than boys miss out on school every year, according to UNICEF. While their brothers continue to go to classes or pursue their hobbies and play, they join the women to do the bulk of the housework.


In neighboring Afghanistan, social pressure, as well as economic need, to have sons is so great that some parents and girls do not mind having one of their daughters play the “pretend son”.

In a recent New York Times article, Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part, readers got an inside look on the lives of girls who take on the persona of sons, at least for part of the day, and up to, or through, puberty.

As Afghanistan is a traditional society where women are expected to stay at home, these “sons” are allowed to work, go out and play, help their parents go to market, etc.· They are treated with respect, unlike their sisters.

“When you don’t have a son in Afghanistan,” she explained, “it’s like a big missing in your life. Like you lost the most important point of your life. Everybody feels sad for you.” – mother of a daughter-turned-son


Research points to education of girls as the most important means to eradicate gender discrimination.

Due to lower educational levels, a woman has a much lower capacity to to earn income.

The ICRW found· that in India, mothers' education is the single most significant factor in reducing son preference.

Apart from laws like the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT) in India and elsewhere in Asia that for the most part appear non-utilized and unenforced, researchers emphasize· increasing female education and paid employment to give women greater ability to function independently and offer support to their parents

By making it socially acceptable for daughters to help their parents, through education and employment, discrimination against girls will be reduced. Parents will begin to understand that their daughters are as valuable as their sons.

Or unbearable.

She is a daughter, she is a sister,
She is a friend, then she holds a hand.
She is a wife, she is a mother,
She is the one who struggles.
She suffers from the plight,
‘You are a girl, and you have no right!’
Stop female infanticide,
Give girl child a new life.

The Media

Access to media also significantly reduces son preference.

Mass media is a powerful tool of social engineering, within the broader process of social and legal reform.

State-run television and radio in India and China has sought to raise awareness of the problems and constraints facing women, and to project images of the media to disseminate information about women's legal rights and how to try to enforce them.

Prof. Yuan Xin, director of the Population and Development Institute of Nankai University in Tianjin, said stopping discrimination against women will help curb the sex ratio imbalance.

"Chinese women still lag behind men in career development, political life and in family life, except for the education level"

  "If women's social status improves, parents will feel better about raising a female child."



Dr. Mitu Khurana 

World Bank – Development Research Group (DECRG), Monica Das Gupta, et al,

Christophe Z. Guilmoto, Senior Fellow in Demography, IRD, France

International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)





New York Times

The Hunger Project