In her thirties, Sunita admits that she has undergone two sex determination tests and then two abortions when she found out she was pregnant with girls. The boy came after the two abortions. “We needed a son who can look after us when are old,” the housewife married to a farm labourer in Hivra village in Jalna district of western Maharashtra, 335 km northeast from Mumbai.
Records at the nearest primary health centre show that in the past year only 239 girls were born in 17 surrounding villages, compared with 349 males. The child sex ratio in the whole district has dropped to 847 girls per 1,000 boys, the 2011 census has revealed, from 904 girls in 2001.
Activists say that the practice of women undergoing sex determination tests is widespread in this and other villages of Jalna, a largely agricultural district. The long-standing factors driving this trend arise from the social system entrenched in this village, as in millions of others in the country: one in which only men inherit property, carry forward the family name, execute all rituals, receive dowry from their wives and are supposed to look after their parents.
More recent factors are the easy availability of sonography machines and an increasing awareness about family planning.
“In the past, women could keep trying for a son,” says Kirti Udhan, chairman, Jalna Zilla Parishad. “So you would see women bearing seven to eight daughters before finally giving birth to a son. Now because of economic compulsions, couples want at least their second or third child to be a son, if the first one is not, and they keep aborting any female foetuses until this is the case.”