Its 2021, and why are we talking about female infanticide? Does it even happen anymore? You might have asked yourself this question before you clicked on this story, but the fact is, it might not happen blatantly around you but female infanticide still does occur in India. The chilling findings of a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the State of World Population Report 2020, confirms this. The report states that India accounts for around 46 million of the worlds 142 million women missing at birth in the last 50 years.The UN agency describes missing females or missing women at birth as those who are missing from the population at a given date due to the cumulative effect of prenatal and postnatal sex selection. The theory of missing females is based on the works of Nobel laureate, Amartya Sens 1992 hypothesis that 37 million women are missing in India. Sens hypothesis indicated that the number of women who could have been expected to be alive today would have been higher if the girl child received equal healthcare, medicine and nutrition as the boy child.According to the UNFPA report, India has the highest rate of excess female deaths at the rate of 13.5 per 1,000 female birthswhich suggests that the deaths of one in nine girls below the age of five years are directly attributable to postnatal sex selection. Yes, this means that girls who are born are then killed or disposed of. Whats worse, India and China together account for almost 90 to 95 per cent of missing female births every year, indicating that even though clinics and hospitals clearly state that prenatal sex selection or determination is illegal, it does happen in our country.This, believe it or not, is the harsh reality of the world we live in. For a nation which has been free for well over 70 years, the fact that its girl child still faces this basic struggle for survival is utterly shameful. Forget giving her an education or prospects, we have not been able to safeguard her mere right to live. And why is that, and what can we do to change this? Lets find out.The Redundant Notion That Shes A BurdenIn a recent exclusive interview with Her Circle, Padma Shri Gulabo Saperawho was buried alive on the day that she was born, and found alive five hours later by her mother and aunthighlights how female infanticide used to be an acceptable practice in her community. Women, even in this day and age, are still seen as burdens to the family, and this fact is supported beyond Gulabos community too. In a patriarchal setup, womens bodies are seen as repositories of familial honour and shame, which is why she often ends up with more moral and societal responsibilities than men do. Additionally, though it is banned in India, dowry at the time of marriage is still practised, and orthodox families may think of having too many girls as a monetary burden later in life.Add to this the fact that property and wealth inheritance laws still tend to favour sons more than daughters, and women are seen as a population that has to be taken care of. Given that women perform unpaid services like cooking, childcare, cleaning, caregiving, and housekeeping, the economic aspect is especially skewed against women. But the fact that cannot be denied today is that this notion that a girl child is an economic burden does not stand, especially if the same child is equipped with education and given prospects of employment in the formal sector. Recognising the unpaid labour that women invariably perform across all strata of Indian society can also help mitigate the idea that she is a burden.The Things Her Mother Goes ThroughFemale infanticide does not always happen because of sex selection before or after birth. There are other factors that must also be taken into account here, primarily where the rights of the mother are concerned. UN Women, in a case study published in 2014 showed that women who face domestic abuse are at a higher risk of miscarriages. The nutritional aspect is also vital here, because if a pregnant woman is abused (mentally or physically) the risk that she is nutritionally deficient is high, and her baby may also be at risk of stillbirth and other health issues. The National Commission for Women (NCW) reveals that cases of domestic violence rose sharply from 2,960 in 2019 to 5,297 in 2020and these are just the number of women who filed complaints. There are no estimates available for the exact number of women who face such abuse, and if or how many children they lose due to it. A 2008 study in the journal PLOS One also suggests that birth registrations in India are still ridden with loopholes, which is why many female infanticide cases in the first few days after birth are easily passed off as stillbirthsas would have been the case with Gulabo Sapera.There is also the mental health of the mother which needs to be taken into consideration. Perinatal depression (depression that occurs during pregnancy or after childbirth, also known as prenatal and postpartum depression) can also lead to a woman feeling helpless after giving birth to a daughter. Without appropriate mental health support at this critical juncture, can a woman be empowered enough to stop the infanticide of her girl child? Sexual assault, rape and unwanted pregnancies are also scenarios where women are victims, and may or may not be able to give birth to children who survive. It is therefore crucial that the healthcare systemincluding the mental healthcare systemdoes not give up on women, and empowers them to live safely and birth daughters safely.The Poverty Aspect Of InfanticideWhile it would be wrong to assume that female infanticide does not occur in wealthy families in India, there is an intrinsic link between intergenerational poverty and female infanticide which cannot be denied. A 2020 study by the World Economic Forum found that some 220 million Indians live below the poverty line, especially in rural India. Poverty is not only endemic in India, but when it coexists with lack of education, low access to healthcare and prevalence of patriarchal bias, son preference and female infanticide naturally result. As mentioned before, the risk of shame, dowry expenditure, and the notion that women arent as big earners as sons can grow up to be, are some of the main reasons why infanticide occurs in this demographic. Further, with nutrition a major problem area for the poverty-ridden rural population, the survival of girls is jeopardised even more.How To Change This Trend?There is a lot that needs to be done to eradicate female infanticide in India, primarily because its an intersectional issue. There may be some laws or policies that have been put in place, but they have loopholes. For exampleand its a critical onea study published by Wiley Online Library in 2019 reveals that Theban on sex selection in India is a ban on the use of technology for sex selection for nonmedical purposes. The ban is aimed at the medical profession, not the parents: doctors, not parents, are the ones who face sanctions if it is violated. This makes the ban on sex selectionwhich was brought about in 1994 with the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, and amended in 2002 with the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Actis basically moot because parents with a son bias can still go for sex-selective abortions. The 2019 Wiley study says this is the primary reason why there are still approximately 500,000 female foetuses which are selectively aborted annually.Clearly, a one-dimensional solution is not suited to this situation. On the one hand, we need strict policies and laws that punish female infanticide. On the other, we need to disseminate awareness about womens rights as well as the policies in place which protect them. Campaigning against female infanticide needs to be more rigorous, and it shouldnt just be government-led but community-led: that is the only way to bring about real and long-lasting change. The healthcare system, especially the side which deals with maternity, needs to register pregnancies, births and infant mortality, and report violations more stringently too. At the other end of the spectrum, empowering young women of today can also help mitigate the notion that the girl child is a burden. Placing more value on the role women play in the economy and getting her the wealth and property inheritance rights she deserves can also help eliminate son bias. A cohesive, multi-pronged approach is what is needed to eliminate female infanticide, and every single Indianeven youcan contribute to this effort by simply empowering women around you in any way you can.