|HER WORLD||Sunday, March 31, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Should a man have a right to his unborn child?
I heard a strange story from a friend recently. He is a self-made man who rose from being a purchase superintendent in a large company, to becoming a small entrepreneur who bought a fine flat in suburban Mumbai, acquired a new car, membership to a new club and generally was accepted as a successful man with chutzpah in his business and social circles. But he said that none of these gave him any happiness because of one of major problem in his life. His vivacious wife, a partner in his business and a great social asset to him, had agreed to have only one child — a beautiful daughter who was now four years old and ready for entry into school. In these four years of the child’s growth, his wife had conceived once and defying his wish to have another baby — he had said he enjoyed being a father and the children he wanted to have would give meaning to his life and work — she had gone and got herself an abortion. What’s more, she had refused to have any more children because she was not about to sacrifice her freedom or career for the sake of his ‘whims and fancies’.
Now those who are — and everyone ought to be — vociferous supporters of family planning and controlling the population of India, may well stand up and be counted on her side. It’s her body after all, she has to carry the baby for nine months, take care of it and so on, they would say. And truthfully enough, by enacting the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, our government has recognised that only the woman who conceives a foetus has ownership over it and can bring it alive into this world or destroy it if she does not want to opt for motherhood.
With the huge population problem which India is facing, a man’s right to his unborn child has naturally never been discussed. If anything, conversely, we have argued that illiterate and macho men have forced their women to produce a child every year for every reason under the sun including to prove their virile manhood. Even among the rich and educated, gynaecologists say, men would like their wives to keep trying pregnancy after pregnancy to produce as many sons as they can bear because of the strong bias in favour of male children in our society.
In this context, the present controversy regarding the sex determination test referred to in the popular serial Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and the joy expressed by the would be mother — Pooja who is Prachi Shah in real life — in announcing he sex of the unborn child as male, acquires importance. Leading gynaecologists and teachers like Geeta Pandya have gone on record to say that instead of bringing more girl children into this hostile world and ill-treating them lifelong as ‘unwanted burdens’, to be passed from the father to the husband to the son for support and validation, it is better that a couple aborts a female foetus.
"I have seen the trauma of parents who have repeated girl children at first hand. I have seen their lives ruined in the present social context. When a couple has one daughter, they should have the right to choose the sex of their next child. But rampant killing of female foetuses is absolutely wrong. I can never support this. No couple should take a third chance. in that case, I would assert that daughters today are as capable of looking after parents as sons — sometimes better. Daughters must be given equal education and opportunities. It is scary that Indians kill female foetuses in such large numbers that the male-female ratio in our census has become skewed in favour of males. This is dangerous and the Government has had to ban sex determination tests in the light of this unlawful massacre of female foetuses."
However, the case of Western societies is different. Who owns a foetus — this debate has been going on in many European countries where a man may want his wife or lover to carry his baby to full term whereas she may not want to. In England for example, the debate is ongoing. What about a man’s right to the life of his unborn child? Should a father have the right to prevent a woman from aborting his child? And if he should have such a right, how about the responsibilities that go along with pre-birth as well as post-birth duties which go with impending fatherhood?
At the present time, the situation is that a man can apply for an injunction against his wife or lover seeking an abortion. but does this legal procedure have any true meaning? At best, it creates an unwieldy situation because no one can keep a woman under watch and prevent her from travelling within or outside the country at will depriving her of her right of free movement, and she can very well use such occasions to abort the foetus. Though the law permits rights to the father, not even legal luminaries know how such rights can be implemented. Whereas in most countries the legal responsibilities of a father are spelled out clearly in respect of children born, there is no established legal right to an unborn child. Therefore, there is endless debate as to who has the right over the life of an unborn child.
The debate is new and unfamiliar even in the West because up till now, there have been only few cases where a father has asked for such a right. Most often, it’s the other way round where men put pressure on their lovers to abort a foetus even if the mothers do not want to do so. In fact, it is a common scenario that a man washes his hands clean off the pregnancy and even questions whether the baby is his indeed. But in the UK, there are love babies born with the support of both families and the Status of Children Act ensures the unmarried dad’s role. Under this Act the father can apply for guardianship, access and even custody provided he has proof of maintenance and paternity on the birth certificate.
Notwithstanding such laws, everywhere in the world, a single mother is almost always considered the sole custodian and guardian of her child. In all these situations human beings are involved, human follies and events beyond control also complicate matters. Even when the situation is ideal, say social observers, what is to stop an unwed mother or father from falling in love with someone else and marrying? Who is to take on the father’s role then and, very often what does the mother do?
In our society too, though the births of love babies are comparatively rare due to the nature of our culture, there are children born out of wedlock and almost always, the mother is literally left holding the baby. In cases where a marriage breaks down, and separation or divorce follows, the custody of children becomes a big issue — emotional for the mother and emotional plus ego for the father. Children become pawns in divorce courts and don’t know their own fate. If the father or mother remarry, whether a stepmother or stepfather will accept the children becomes one more thorny issue. Solutions to these problems must differ from person to person. In a society, where love affairs, short marriages and divorces are common, the children’s fate and more so the fate of the unborn child will remain a big question mark like a bright neon-sign flickering on a dark night!
The belief that women who commit female foeticide are hapless victims of societal or familial pressure has been shattered by a survey that focused on the prevalence of female foeticide in Delhi. The study a doctoral research by Dr Ritu Juneja about the reproductive behavior of 150 women having "all daughter families’" revealed that the decision to resort or not to resort to sex determination tests and female foeticide rested with the women in 85-90 per cent of the cases. Of all the women in the sample in the 20 to 40 years age group taken from all socio economic strata who resorted to sex determination tests and female foeticide, 85 per cent had made this decision solely or jointly with their husbands.
The survey that seeks to study the mindset of women in metropolitan cities that are likely to be emulated by the rest of the country found, that "realisation" that it was the woman who had to bear and rear the children besides it was her body that would bear the burden of multiple pregnancies. These women had "asserted" themselves and decided to put a limit on the number of daughters they would produce in order to have a son.
Ms. Krishna (all names changed) for instance felt that she had the right to have a male child, "Beta to chahiye hi, hum uske liye char paanch betiyan kyun paida karen? The rest of the women, too, had realised that they and their family would not satisfied unless they produced a son. Hence, they decided that they would be sensible and resort to sex determination and at least not have numerous "unwanted" daughters.
The desire for a male child is universal. But with these women it had become an obsession. Though most of these women expressed they desired children of both sexes, they gave traditional reasons to stress that the presence of the male child was mandatory.
However, they confessed that had their first-born been male children they might not have tried for a female child. They did not want children for the sake of having children rather they wanted sons and daughters for their own selfish reasons. The son was required for support in old age, transmitting the family name and property religious rituals etc.
Taunts of the family members, relatives and society were the other frequently cited reason for resorting to this extreme measure. "It was a stigma to be a mother without a son." Society expected you to have a son. A mother who did not try for a son was questioned and traumatised by society. Ms Manu who had tried a number of times for a male child defended her latest pregnancy by stating, "If I had not tried for a son after having two daughters...People would have said that she has not tried for a son. ‘Why she did not try? Why did she not use the test? Now that I am going to have a son everyone is happy that I have done something good."
The study, conducted over a period of one and a half years starting from mid-2000, found these women did not wish to dwell on the economic viability of another child. Financial constraints existed for a female child whom they would abort but not for the male child that they would bear. For example, Ms. Nitu explained, Mehngaai ka zamana hai...jayada bache palne mushkil hai.. Abhi test ka kharcha parega baad ka kharcha to bachega...luxury ki cheez khareedne mein kharcha to hoga.
They were less concerned about the family size and more about its composition with regard to the representation of male sex in their children. They wanted to use the latest scientific advancements to kill foetus of their own sex and not for any health reasons.
They were so adamant that if one doctor turned them away, they would consult another. They were ready to even go to quacks to get the sex determined.
Most of these women had received formal education at least till class 12. The educational status had thus "empowered" them to be a key player in the decision to resort to sex determination. However, education here only served the purpose of creating awareness of Advanced Reproductive Technologies and not elevating their self worth. Their education did not make them educated enough to question the ethicality of the issue. Thus, they accepted sex selective abortions wholeheartedly. They believed that if a facility were available, it would be unwise not to use it. Every other person was using the facility why should not they too use it. For them it was an issue of "practicality" and not "ethicality."
Discussions with these women revealed that they harboured no remorse or guilt feelings about committing female foeticide. Facts such as a) few of them had resorted to sex determination in the past; b) the present pregnancy had been planned to beget a son; c) majority of them planned to use sex determination another time in the future, demonstrated the absence of sentiment and feelings. One was not expected be sentimental when dealing with a ‘practical issue’ like family planning and exercise of reproductive rights.
Some women, who were interviewed after the abortion of the female foetus, expressed relief at having done away with the (unwanted) foetus. The only remorse they expressed was that they would have to make another try. The women were not remorseful about the abortion. According to them they were being sensible and practical by using the facilities in the market.
Case profiles of 150 families was conducted to make study illustrative and gain useful insights. It was found that the extended family too was playing a role too by pressurising them to produce a male child. The pressure however, was to produce a son and not to undergo sex determination. How the couple chose to go about producing the male child was their decision only. A housewife, Savita, who is a postgraduate, stated "I have given the ultimatum to my in-laws that if they desired a grandson then they would have to allow me to go for sex determination".
Others chose not to disclose their "secret" to their in-laws. The reason being that the traditional in-laws would not have allowed abortion. This fact was corroborated by some of the mothers-in-law who stated that the presence of a male child was absolutely necessary but abortion was a sin. The study revealed that they were using the reproductive technologies not to prevent multiple pregnancies, which ruined their health, but to kill the foetus of their own sex. Their exercise of their right to decide their family composition was a dismal indicator of their low self-concept and negation of the self.
Ritu Juneja is employed by an NGO - STOP( Stop Trafficking, Oppression, Prostitution of women and Children) as senior researcher. She heads an NGO organisation named VIDIA(Violence-Indifference-Discrimination-Ill treatment-Abuse) which is solely working for the girl child and presently involved in creating public awareness about female foeticide.
The techniques used to conduct the study over women from Delhi, Faridabad, Ghaziabad in the sample were interviews, questionnaires and observations.
It was found that factors such as age at marriage, education, occupational background, family type and composition were important variables affecting such behaviour. Also familial dynamics such as socio-economic status of in- laws , authority patterns, involvement in decision-making ,a degree of autonomy to a woman, childhood-self concept were important determinants of such behavioural patterns.
"Becoming beautiful at a price" by Priyanka Bhattacharya was interesting. Colouring one’s hair is the latest fashion fad. One can have shades of purple, turquoise, copper, bronze or any colored hair one fancies, to match one’s moods and moments.
Though hair color looks sophisticated and is an expensive treatment, it is lurking with danger. Harmful chemicals in it, especially para-phenylenediamine, can result in inflammation, itching, blisters and sores particularly on soft skin areas like eyelids, ears and forehead. The scalp is tough and is thus unlikely to get inflamed or itch.
Though many manufacturers recommend a patch test, they don’t always work. Ideally, two patch tests are required at an interval of three days but no one waits that long. Dermatologists opine that an allergic reaction may not be caused only at the first time of applying hair color. It can also occur later.
Germany and certain western countries have banned para-phenlyenediamine from cosmetology. Latest research reveals that hair color may be associated with cancer, thus prompting the European Union’s Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products to give another thought to it’s safety.
Roshni Johar, Shimla.
Adversity as strength
This refers to the article "Learning to use adversity as a strength" by Sushmita Ray (March 3). Adverse circumstances not only teach a person perseverance, caution, patience, but at the same time, adversity makes a person physically, emotionally and mentally a very strong being, who can steer himself/herself clear of all the heavy-odds of life and start afresh.
One should never complain that a rose has a thorn, but be thankful that thorns give you roses. Every encounter is an experience which adds to new dimensions. A bad relationship though leaves a scar behind, yet it should not be allowed to sway you away. Never look back, future holds much for you.
Strive to make the present worth-living. When one door is closed, God opens many more for you, have the perception to realise it and grab the opportunity. Never be disheartened, as adversity is the greatest teacher.Risham, Rajpura,
We usually become what this life of ours moulds us into. That is why perhaps we become wise as we advance in life and approach its twilight. These lessons don’t come for free, we have to ‘pay’ for them with our sweat and blood, tears and pain. Unhappy emotional experiences might teach us a few lessons and make us more worldly wise, lending a glow of kindness and perseverance to a soul previously immune to the pain of others. It may endow a person with greater emotional depth, maturity and self-dependence. But these are by no means easy lessons. It does pain a lot when the thorns scratch the soft and vulnerable emotions. Nobody wishes to have a bad marriage. But if, unfortunately, it does happen, then it is certainly better to surface from the shambles of a destructive marriage and endeavour to get up and walk again as a dignified human being, rather than going down for good as a vessel breaking into a thousand smithereens. Whether the path is strewn with roses or thorns, excelsior should be the driving motto.