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Attitude towards female infanticide: an impact of literacy level in relation to gender of post adolescents.


"Let a female child be born somewhere else; here, let a male child be born." --[Atharva VedaVI.2.3] [cf. Peri]

These verses were recited whenever an Aryan couple wished to have a child, and display considerable discrimination against women even in the Vedic age. The 'holy' and 'great' Vedas explicitly sanction the practice of female infanticide.


* Infanticide (infan'tosid) [Lat.,=child murder], "the putting to death of the newborn with the consent of the parent, family, or community"

* "Female infanticide, the prevalent form of sex-selective infanticide is the systematic killing of girls at or soon after birth".

* Infanticide is the purposeful death of an unborn fetus/ infant under five for reasons including: gender, and physical/mental handicap. Female infanticide is defined as the following: the intentional killing of baby girls due to the preference for male babies and from the low value associated with the birth of females.

* "The murder or killing of an infant soon after its birth." (Black's Law Dictionary).

* "Killing of an entirely dependent girl child under one year of age by mother, parents or others in whose care she is entrusted" (Kolloor 1990).

It normally occurs when a society values male children to the point that producing a female is considered dishonorable or shameful. Female infanticide was most common in urban China during the Qing Dynasty, due to overpopulation, and the second half of the twentieth century, due to the One Child Policy that created stiff financial penalties for parents who had multiple children.

In the Greece of 200 B.C., the murder of female infants was so common that among 6,000 families living in Delphi no more than 1 percent had two daughters.

Female infanticide was also an accepted practice among the Arabs before Islam. Later in ayat 8, 9 of Sura At-Takwir female infanticide was prohibited: "And when the female (infant) buried alive (as the pagan Arabs used to do) shall be questioned: (8) For what sin she was killed? (9)" However, sex selective abortion or abandonment were more common methods of disposing of unwanted girls. Sex selective abandonment is the practice of giving away an infant of an undesired sex, typically female, for adoption. It is the non-abortive and non-fatal alternative. If the biological parents want their infant child of an undesired sex out of their home but yet allow the infant to live, then they give away the child for adoption or export for foreign adoption. Female infanticide is still a problem in developing countries, especially where males are valued over females. According to a recent report by UNICEF, over 50 million females are missing from the Indian population.

In early 2005, The Lancet, a British medical journal reported that there may have been close to 10 million female infants aborted in India over the past 20 years. This is extrapolated partly on the basis of reduction of female to male sex ratio from 945 per 1000 as reported in the 1991 census, to 927 per 1000 in 2001. The most widely accepted justification for female infanticide is the common belief that the male child is the eventual breadwinner and progenitor of the family name. Moreover, with the male descendant, family heirlooms and inherited wealth shall remain with the family. On the other hand, with the female child, dowry is a major source of concern for parents, who consider the expenses incurred in the education and upbringing of the girl child to be a liability on the family, since the benefits shall be reaped by the girl's husband's family, after she "is given away in marriage". The only state in India, which has a higher female to male ratio, is Kerala, where although dowry is still rampant, female infanticide is almost unheard of.

The traditional method of female infanticide included either poisoning the baby girl, or letting her choke on husk or simpler still by just crushing her skull under a charpoy. Advances in medical sciences led to the development of sophisticated techniques, which is being misused to get rid of girls before birth, and possibly before conception. Ultrasound and amniocentesis has dominated the scene whereby the sex of the foetus is determined during the pregnancy of the woman and the foetus is aborted if found to be a female. Another method, which has increasingly become popular is sperm separation or Ericsson's technique, in this technique the man's sperms are taken and tested in a laboratory to separate the XX and XY containing sperms and only XY sperms which can produce boys are used to artificially inseminate the women. Thus, sex selection takes place pre-natally, in this instance even before conception. The latest genetic technique, which is primarily used for sex determination, is Prenatal Genetic Diagnosis (PDG).

Based on anthropological evidence (Dube 1983) it has been observed that societies with adverse female sex ratio have indicated the presence of customs like polyandry and abduction and purchase of women. It is strongly felt, that contrary to raising the status of women, adverse sex ratio would increase the incidence of rape, prostitution and violence against women. This abuse of girl child which is violation of her human right to life continues to prevail not only in some parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat but recently has been found in some districts of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra as well (Kumari 1995). Sabu George, Rajaratnam Abel and B.D. Miller (1998) investigated about female infanticide in rural south India. The research was carried out in 12 villages. Results revealed that female infanticide is practiced in only 6 of the 12 study villages affecting about 10 percent of newborn girls. Seventy-two percent of all female deaths were due to foeticide.

Ajinder Walia (2005) studied female foeticide in Punjab and explored the socio economic and cultural dimensions. Escalating demands of dowry was cited as the main reason for it. The respondents feared that the decline in sex ratio might lead to degradation of moral values in the society resulting in polyandry, violence against women, red trafficking etc. The suggestive measures which flew unabated from the study included strict implementation of laws banning female foeticide and dowry, providing old age pension for parents who had no son, free and compulsory education for girls, job reservation for women in specific occupations and giving them an equal share in the property, in the true sense of the word.

Objective: To ascertain the significant difference between literate and illiterate post adolescents in their attitude towards female infanticide in relation to their gender.

Operational Definitions:

Gender: It refers especially to the biological characteristics, which indicate membership in one of the two categories: male or female.

Literate: Person's who acquired minimum education up to V Std.

Illiterate: Person's who are not able to read and write.

Post adolescents: Person's whose age is between 20 to 30 years.


Sample: The samples were drawn from Udaipur (Raj.). Samples were selected on complete random basis. A total sample of 40 subjects was taken, age ranging from 20 to 30 years. The only control variable taken under concern was educational qualification for the literate sample, which was taken up to V standard. Male & female groups were classified into those belonging to literate and illiterate groups. They were interviewed accordingly.

Tools: The "Attitude Scale towards Female Infanticide" regarding the study was constructed solely for this purpose only. The four-point scale consisted of 12 items. The items consisted of statements related to the concept of female infanticide.

Complete instructions were provided to the subjects. The scores obtained by the subjects on the scale were analyzed statistically.


The present study was intended to explore the effect of gender and literacy level on attitude towards female infanticide. To attain the objective 2 way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was employed which revealed following results.

The result Table indicates that the attitude of male subjects was more favorable towards female infanticide as compared to the female counterparts. This means that the male subjects are in support of having a male child with regard to female child. This can be accounted towards the social customs they face during their upbringing as it reflected in their positive reply to the statement that "Boys help in the economic stability of the family as compared to girls". Similarly females also display a favorable attitude which can be accounted again to the social set up they are brought in and also the desire revealed by the in-laws to have a male child. It is also evident that the attitude of illiterate male and female was more supportive regarding the issue of female infanticide.

The result Table points out that the illiterate subjects have an approving attitude towards female infanticide as compared to literate sample. This difference can be imparted to the level of education one receives and thus is able to rationalize things easily. The illiterate subjects also cited certain reasons for female infanticide, which included dowry, no social security and insistence of family members.

Result Table 3 illustrates that F ratio is not found to be significant for the variable gender, which means that attitude towards female infanticide, is not affected by person's gender. In the other case person's literacy has been found as an important factor to determine the attitude towards female infanticide. The indication is that literacy level significantly affects the attitude towards this notion resulting illiterate subjects are in favor of female infanticide.

When one reflects on the data presented above it is clearly seen that the interaction between gender and literacy level is not significant. It is difficult to obtain firsthand, carefully confirmed data on infanticide cases and the social variables related to it, in quantities sufficient to allow theory testing. Most important, there is the problem of gathering enough data on direct or indirect infanticide in a short time span. Also the subject of infanticide bears a certain amount of stigma for both the population concerned and the psychologist who studies it..

A holistic approach is required for changing such a complex system of values pertaining to girls and women, and an extensive study of the underlying social dynamics is needed. Other than this the government policies related to raising the status of women may also have a beneficial impact: like scholarships for women students, special emphasis on women in poverty alleviation programs, reservations (reserved slots) in local community organizations for women, and special care for widows. As a recent note in the newsletter Safe Motherhood comments, 'Such measures can only be successful if better data--separate information about girls' and boys' mortality rates, for instance--are available to planners of health and education'. Girls are the future of all nations, so it is high time the scales are balanced.


Agarwal S. Vedic Obliteration of Girls. Genocide of Women in Hinduism. Chapter 1.

Dube L. (1983). Misadventures in amniocentesis. Economic and Political Weekly 40 (2): 279-80.

Kollor T. M. (1990). Female infanticide: A Psychological analysis. Grass Roots Action, Special issue on Girl child April 3, and pp 3.

Kumari R. (1995). Rural female adolescence: Indian scenario. Social Change 25 (2): 177-88.

Sabu George, Abel Rajaratnam and Miller B.D. (1998). Female Infanticide in Rural South India. Search Bulletin. July-Sept 1998. 12(3). P. 18-26.

Walia A. (2005). Female foeticide in Punjab: Exploring the socio economic and cultural dimensions. Journal of Social Issues, Volume 10, No.1.

http ://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Female_infanticide

http ://ucl.broward. edu/pathfinders/Infanticide.htm

http ://

http ://www.hsph. harvard. edu/Organizations/grhf/SAsia/suchana/0105/george_abel_miller.html

Received: April 10, 2015

Revised: September 30, 2015

Accepted: December 15, 2015

AnitaM. Daryanani * and Shatini Purohit **

* Research Advisor, Udaipur, India and ** Consultant Psychologist, Bangalore, India
Table 1: Mean Values for Gender on Attitude towards
Female Infanticide

        Male                   Female

Literate    Illiterate   Literate   Illiterate

20.2           40.7        16.7        38.9

        30.45                   27.8

Table 2: Mean Values for Literacy Level on Attitude
towards Female Infanticide

   Literate        Illiterate

Male     Female   Male    Female

20.2      16.7    40.7     38.9
    18.45             39.8

Table 3: Analysis of Variance Based on Attitude Scale Scores

Source of variance      Sum of     d.f.      Mean sum
                        squares             of squares

Gender Male / Female     70.2        1         70.2

Literacy Level          4558.2       1        4558.2
Literate / Illiterate

Interaction              7.25        1         7.25

Error                   1100.7      36        30.55

Total                     39      5736.35     147.05

Source of variance      F ratio     Remarks on

Gender Male / Female     2.298    Not significant

Literacy Level          149.204         **
Literate / Illiterate

Interaction               .25     Not significant



** Significant at. 01 level
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Author:Daryanani, Anita M.; Purohit, Shatini
Publication:Indian Journal of Community Psychology
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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