Coercion, money, and the rise of reproductive freedom.

Science, technology, and life.
March 5 2008 11:47 AM

Girl Power

Coercion, money, and the rise of reproductive freedom.

(Continued from Page 1)

On that question, India is moving in the same direction. Like China, India has a sex-selection problem. A recent study calculated that over the last two decades, 10 million Indian girls have been aborted. The most recent estimated rate is 7,000 per day. Nationwide, the number of girls born for every 1,000 boys is 933. In some regions, it's below 900. Much of the reason is economic. In parts of India, as in China, boys are regarded as assets, while girls require dowries so that somebody else's son will support them.

In India, as in China, central mandates have failed. The country's ban on sex-selective abortion has proved unenforceable. Chowdhury is trying a different tack. Instead of telling parents what to do, she's offering what she calls an "incentive." You can lecture parents all day about the value of raising girls, but the best way to make them appreciate that value is to make it concrete and immediate. Chowdhury thinks her subsidies will persuade parents "to look upon the girl as an asset rather than a liability since her very existence would lead to cash inflow to the family." Over time, she hopes, the education and employment of women will "help in changing their mindsets towards the girl."

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Will it work? I don't know. Nor am I certain that reproductive freedom, coupled with family planning, will rectify China's demographic imbalances without leading to a population explosion. But I bet they'll work better than preaching and prohibition have.