Why the World’s Fastest-Growing Economy Wants to Pay Parents to Have Girls

India’s new campaign aims to curb female feticide through educational programs and monetary incentives.

A schoolgirl attending class just outside of Bandhavgarh National Park, India. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jan 22, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Fewer girls are being born in India—and that’s not a naturally occurring phenomenon. While most parents might delight at the thought of buying cute outfits and toys to welcome their baby girl into the world, some Indian moms and dads are deciding to abort the pregnancy once they learn they’re having a girl.

“Placing importance on sons above daughters is a psychological illness,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday as he urged his constituents to value the lives of boys and girls equally. Modi’s speech in Haryana—an area with one of the worst male-to-female ratios—came with the announcement of a national campaign to end sex-selective abortion.

Aborting a child after discovering its gender is banned in India, yet for every 1,000 boys from infancy to age six in the country, there are only 914 girls. That might not seem like a significant difference, but it translates to 7.1 million more boys than girls of the same age group, according to 2011 census data from the United Nations. The problem is getting worse—in 2001, there were just 4.2 million more boys than girls in the South Asian country.

Modi’s campaign is called “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao,” which translates to “Save the Daughter, Teach the Daughter.” It will begin in the 100 districts with the worst ratios, enforcing existing laws against prebirth gender selection. It also seeks to empower women through educational programs. To help incentivize parents to nurture their female children, Modi has also launched the Sukanya Samridhi Yojna (girl child prosperity fund) in which girls under the age of 10 will have bank accounts that gain more interest and have better tax benefits than those offered to boys, The Indian Express reported.

The decrease in women in India is contributing to unsafe conditions for the female population, such as increased instances of kidnapping and sex trafficking as well as wife-sharing, according to a 2014 report by the United Nations, which called the imbalanced ratio a national emergency.

Terminating a pregnancy based on sex stems from larger issues of gender inequality within India’s patriarchal structure. Sons inherit land from their parents, whereas women require a dowry for marriage, making them a financial burden. Along with carrying on the family name, male children are relied upon by their parents for monetary assistance and care in their old age. Traditionally, parents also choose to live with the son’s family once he marries.

The prime minister recognizes that the road to gender equality in his country will be a long one. “What we are pledging to do today will not change things fast. It takes time for people’s mindset to change,” said Modi.

“Let’s not look back and shift blame. Let’s wake up and work together to get rid of this scourge. Beta beti ek samaan [girls and boys are equal],” Modi continued. “This should be our mantra.”