Sons over Daughters.


Pakistani man admitted to drowning his one-and-a-half-year-old baby daughter because he had wished for a son instead. The wife looked on.

Adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women is often described as an international bill of rights for women. The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including plans “to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women, to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination, and to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.”

In July 30, 1980, India signed the Convention and agreed to abide by its goals to promote equality among women and to take measures to end discrimination in all forms against them.

Prenatal sex selection is still common in India, which violates equality  against women.  Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India. The act banned prenatal sex determination. The natural ratio is about 105 boys per 100 girls, or above 950 girls per 1000 boys, as calculated in the Indian context. The recent Sample Registration Survey figures put the sex ratio at birth for India at 892 girls per 1000 boys. Various estimates put the figure at 5–7 lakh girls missing each year due to prenatal sex selection. Thus, despite the ban of prenatal sex selection, it is still commonly practiced because India is not enforcing it strictly.

The Indian culture is still pressured by the idea of producing men because they are seen as a source of household income. But, women on the other hand, are seen as a burden to the family’s resources because usually in rural villages, women can’t go far from home for job prospects. Also, the Indian culture has a deep rooted history of Dowry, where the bride’s family pays the groom for marrying their daughter since the daughter is seen as a burden being transferred to another family. A report in Pakistan’s Tribune newspaper estimated that the average family in the country has to spend at least 1 million rupees ($9,500) to marry off each daughter when the average per capita income is only about $1,200.

The lack of enforcement of this law is in violation of the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, which calls for the enforcement of laws to promote equality of women. UN should take strict action against this and force India to actually enforce their laws, or what is the point of having them. Is India just trying to please the UN and be in its good terms by signing the treaty, but has no intention of actually doing anytime to carry out the law in the country?


Country Office India



Pulitzer Center



  1. Although the General Assembly (in other words, all states) adopted the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, a state cannot be held accountable for a violation of the Convention unless that state has actively abided by that law. Customary international law is not formed until a state has adopted the law and has practiced the law. As seen through numerous examples in Ms. Thomas’ blog post, the societal stigma towards women needs to be changed. This can be through various means; or example, empowering the women in the country by further educating them or giving them a means to survive (helping them micromanage business). The solution to this problem needs to be addressed at its root: the “Johns” that are allowing for this kind of discrimination to occur.

  2. It seems that India hopes to get the United Nations monkey off its back. With many similarities to the Chinese culture (in respects to preference of male children), Indian prenatal sex selection runs as deep as historical context can run. This is where the problem stems. Despite adopting the Convention rules eliminating all forms of discrimination against women, such adoption does not erase the culture and mindsets of the Indian people themselves. In order to do this, the Indian government must shed a more positive light upon its female population and enforce tighter restrictions against discrimination. Without legal, political or social motivation, practices such as prenatal sex selection will only continue to affect the Indian people.

    This seems to be a daunting task in a country where dowry’s are still prevalent. Unfortunately, signing a convention will not automatically elicit the desired effects that Indian women so desperately deserve. It will take a change of the people as a whole and that has no definitive time span.

  3. I agree with both of you. Simply passing a law is not enough. The lawmakers in India need to target the male centered culture that promotes these viewpoints.
    It’s interesting to note that even though women are seen as a burden, the Indian culture celebrates numerous female gods.

  4. It is entirely possible that India signed the treaty to pacify the situation with no intention of upholding any of the obligations. I think, however, if India actually felt a constant and nagging nudge from the international community they may be more inclined to initiate change. It is such a sad reality that women’s rights around the world are still ignored, degraded, and sometimes just non-existent. India should be held accountable for their violations to the Convention, which they voluntarily became a signatory to. Their lack of enforcement of women’s rights is rooted in sociological norms, and unfortunately traditions are not easily uprooted and changed on their own; the international community must impose pressure against backwards, sexist, and discriminatory practices, so that these traditions can be understood as just that in India.

  5. The key words in Article 2 of the CEDAW are “undertake” and “appropriate.” A state that has agreed to “undertake . . . to adopt appropriate legislative and other measures . . .” abides by a different standard than a state that plainly agrees to adopt them without such qualifying terms.

    In addition, India’s Reservation to Article 29, Paragraph 1 of the CEDAW effectively takes out the teeth of any attempt by any other state to challenge India’s interpretation or application of the any provision in the Convention. The result is that India may interpret its efforts to “undertake” “appropriate” legislative and other measures nearly any way it wants; all India would have to do is argue that it is making some form of progress, regardless of how minute that progress might actually be. No other signatory nation could challenge the matter of India’s purported inaction via arbitration or referral to the ICJ.

    This is an unfortunate byproduct of the diplomatic process; many conventions sound very good on paper, but without measures calling signatories to account, complainants end up with little power.

    While India should be held to its words as a signatory, absent the CEDAW “crystallizing” into custom through the opinio juris of states (which takes time and consistent state action), such an outcome is unlikely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *