An ill-looking pregnant woman stands outside an unlicensed medical clinic in Chandigarh, the capital city of Punjab state. Only 31, Madhu has already undergone four abortions after illegal prenatal tests indicated she was pregnant with girls.
Madhu, a Hindu, already has given birth to two daughters. Her husband has threatened to abandon her, and his parents verbally abuse her for not producing a boy to carry on the family name. Madhu's own parents say it is her "curse" to bear only girls.
"I think bad thoughts," Madhu says in a feeble voice. "If the test says it is a girl again, I will commit suicide."
In India, a cultural obsession for boys drives 5 million women to kill their unborn baby girls every year, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. But that may be changing. In January, India's highest court ordered state officials to confiscate the physical assets of prenatal sex-determination clinics that use unlicensed ultrasound machines. India's high court sometimes takes the unusual step of issuing rulings apart from specific court cases. This ruling was in response to a plea from health activist Sabu M. George and two nongovernmental organizations.
The advent of high-tech ultrasound equipment in India has encouraged a boom in female feticide, despite a 1994 law that bans using the technology to determine the sex of unborn children. Many Indians see girls as an excessive financial burden because of the dowry system. Although the system has been illegal for 40 years, many families of girls must still pay dowries ranging from $500 to $50,000, depending on social status, to marry into good families.
"For a mother to kill her child is not easy," says Neelam Gupta, senior program officer at the Indian ...1