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Book Review

Female Foeticide – Myth and Reality
Anurag Agarwal
Pages - 104
Price - Rs.300/-
Smt Shailaja Chandra
Former Secretary, Department of AYUSH, Government of India and Chief Secretary, Delhi

The book is an analysis of interviews of 374 women who underwent sex determination tests leading to female foeticide. A questionnaire was prepared and administered by volunteers belonging to an NGO. The main objective of the study was to understand the psyche of women who have undergone female foeticide. The survey covered 17 districts Punjab and it was conducted over a three-month period from November 2001 to January 2002. The interviewers were given a one-day orientation program and the training was imparted under the supervision of the concerned ANM/multipurpose health workers (female).

The questionnaire had 40 questions and the respondents were classified according to economic status. The analysis was undertaken by a computer engineer and doctors of the Punjab Health Systems Corporation who developed their own software. Some of the more important and qualitative questions put to the women respondents relate to:

·         Whether belonging to the joint family structure,

·         Whether they already had living children,

·         Whether they already had a male child/female child,

·         Awareness about prenatal testing and the source of this knowledge,

·         Perceptions on whether the mother should know about the sex of the unborn child,

·         Reasons why preference is given to the boy child.

·         Perception about the status of women who had a son,

·         Whether maltreatment was meted out for not having a male child

·         Mode of maltreatment,

·         Number of induced abortions,

·         Feelings experienced before the ultrasonography,

·         Reasons for undergoing sex determination and who suggested going in for female foeticide,

·         Whether the respondent would repeat female foeticide and the number of attempts made to have a male child.


The findings show that women belonging to the upper strata of society tend to opt for sex determination and female foeticide more than the lower strata of society. There are different reasons for this but on the whole the findings show that caste, education, religion and financial status do not affect the data on gender bias and the son preference is prevalent all through but significantly higher among the more affluent and educated.

 An important finding was that in 75% of the cases the respondents were pressurised by the husband and in-laws as well as parents to have the procedure done.

 From all this, the author concludes that religious advocacy is not going to work and needs to be modified by reducing the monopoly of males in the religious ceremonies. He also advocates that the belief that only sons carry the family name forward and those daughters are somebody else’s wealth needs to be corrected through specific strategies.

The study also brings out that more than 60% of the women respondents stated that they would try up to 3 times for a male child and some even four times which shows the level of desperation to have a male child.



It is not clear whether the statistical methodology is robust enough to withstand technical review but even if the book is used to understand trends as well as factors that influence families in opting for sex determination, it is an extremely useful study. This book was published in 2003 and therefore much of what is written there is now very well-known and borne out by up-to-date research studies and publications. Nonetheless, the book teaches young civil servants and particularly officers who are posted in critical positions as Deputy Commissioners/District Magistrates or those entering the health sector at a senior level the issues connected with son preference and gender bias as seen from the point of view of the would-be mothers. This approach is useful because instead of castigating the role of gynaecologists, radiologists and the systemic failure of the state apparatus, the book focuses almost entirely upon the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and practices of families belonging to different economic strata.