Killing our daughters quietly

The recent census estimates for Pakistan show that for every 100 women in Pakistan there are 105 males

Killing our daughters quietly

A long time ago in Arabia, in an age Muslims call Jahiliyya (meaning ‘time of ignorance’), people used to kill or bury alive their infant daughters, since in the Arab culture of the time, daughters were a burden and embarrassment at best. With the advent of Islam, female infanticide was banned and especially since the Prophet’s own blood continued through a woman, it was considered very un-Islamic to kill the female child. But habits and traditions die hard. While actual infanticide reduced, the girl child was still considered unwelcome and men were — and are, still preferred in Arab culture.

In South Asia, female infanticide was not uncommon even a few hundred years ago. While the infamous sati — the burning of the widow on the funeral pyre is known worldwide, the killing of the girl child was also present in society.

In fact, several clans prided themselves over the fact that they did not have girl children. It was only when the British came to India that both Sati and female infanticide were banned and criminalised, and the practice declined. But, as I mentioned earlier, habits and tradition do not die easily.

The recent census estimates for Pakistan show that for every 100 women in Pakistan there are 105 males. In the province of Balochistan it is even worse, where for every 100 women there are 110 males. It is perhaps only in this measure that we are fast following our great benefactor, China, which hit an all time high of 121 males to 100 females in 2004, and now stands at about 113 males to a 100 females. Our neighbour India too is not far behind with 108 men for 100 women. The Gulf countries skew the chart even more, but that is due to a predominant number of male workers in those countries.

The figures above sit very uneasily with those from the developed world where either the ratio is largely equal, or there are more women than men. So in Japan there are 95 men for every 100 women, in Germany 96 to 100 and in the UK 97 to 100. The United States has 98 men to every 100 women, and Australia has a near perfect 100 males to 100 females.

So why are figures in Pakistan, China, India, among others, so skewed the other way? The answer is simple: despite religious precepts to the contrary, despite education, despite development, we are still killing our girls. We no longer bury them alive or kill them after birth, but now we cleverly kill them before they are even born. The evil of abortion has singularly been responsible for the death of millions of unborn girls around the world.

In Pakistan problems relating to sex selection are only now coming to light. We have no law that regulates abortion in the country, which is almost done on demand

Due to ultrasound techniques, parents get to know the gender of their child pre-birth and due to familial, societal and other pressures, millions of pregnant women are forced to abort their female babies, simply because of their sex. In India this ‘sex-selection’ became such a problem that in 1994 an act of parliament had to be passed to criminalise sex selection.

Even in instances where the girl child in born, in China, in South Asia countries, and in some African countries, male children are given preference over female children and so the survival ratio of the girl child is adversely affected in these countries, especially in the first year after birth. In some instances a male child is upto 75 percent more likely to reach the age of one, than the female child. Hence simple neglect after birth is a major cause of high female infant mortality in the developing world.

In Pakistan problems relating to sex selection are only now coming to light. We have no law with regulates abortion in the country — it is almost done on demand. The census results clearly show that we urgently need to regulate abortion and also create and enforce a law banning sex selection. We also need to promote better postnatal healthcare for the female child so that infant mortality rates come down further.

The census has given us a stark reality, that of our vanishing daughters, who we, individually and as a society, are killing. It is time to stop it or else we will still remain in the time of Jahiliyya.


The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55. He tweets at @BangashYK



Published in Daily Times, September 10th 2017.