Childless women not only have to live with the bitter truth, some of them are also ill-treated or even deserted by their spouses and in-laws, a study by the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, has found.
Researcher Dr Usha Ram analysed the National Family Health Survey data (1998-99) and found that while 29 per cent women, who did not have an offspring, were divorced or deserted by their husbands, the incidence was eight per cent among those with children. More childless women (23 per cent) had also reported that they were beaten by their husband/in-laws in as opposed to 20 percent of women with children.
Dr Ram cautioned that this data had its limitations as the reasons for marital disruption or domestic violence can be multiple. “But childlessness surely seems to be an important factor,” she said.
Independent researcher Dr Alka Barua, who had interviewed young couples from rural parts of Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar for a project, said there was enormous social pressure to have a child.
“Couples are not only expected to have children, they are expected to conceive within the first year of marriage to prove their fertility,” she said.
She added that in most cases the woman is blamed for childlessness. “Some girls admitted that their in-laws had threatened to throw them out and get new wives for their husbands.”
But it’s not that men don’t suffer the consequences of childlessness. “I remember a young man who broke down while talking to us. His friends had been questioning his manhood because he had been unable to impregnate his wife,” said Barua, who is the executive director of the Foundation for Research in Health Systems in Ahmedabad.