Dowry and Female Infanticide in India
Around The World,  Socio-Cultural Norms,  Violence Against Women and Girls

Dowry-The Leading Cause of Female Infanticide in India

Dowry is the transfer of wealth from the parents to their daughter at her marriage. Dowry is practiced in many parts of the world, but is most prevalent in South Asia, especially in India and Indian sub continents. Dowry may include cash, jewelry, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils, car and even land or house. Dowry, traditionally, is demanded by the groom and his family from the bride’s father. Dowry amount varies across different socio-economic classes. But irrespective of the financial condition of a girl’s family, taking a huge loan, selling or mortgaging properties for dowry are very common in India. Sometimes , the dowry demands keep increasing after marriage and failing to meet the demand by the girl’s parents leads to mental and physical torture and even murder of the newly married girl. Dowry and Female Infanticides in India are two interconnected social evils which are very difficult to eradicate.


     Dowry Killing: What is It?

Dowry killing is the murder of a women for not being able to bring enough money or asset from her parents. They are often severely abused and tortured before the murder. As per a Indian National Crime Record Bureau report in 2013, a dowry-related crime causes the death of a woman every 90 minutes, or 1.4 deaths per year per 100,000 women in India.

To know more, please read my post – Dowry Killings: Why Does It Happen and How Can We Prevent It?


  Dowry or Gifts?

Because of increasing campaigns and awareness against dowry over last few decades, nowadays, many educated families showcase all the assets a girl brings from her parents as ‘gifts’, refusing to acknowledge that they have accepted dowry .

But even under this sugar-coated and sophisticated practice, the quality and quantity of the ‘gifts’ very much determine how a bride would be treated by her husband’s family.  The amount of dowry received in their son’s marriage is also a matter of prestige and honor for grooms families. Therefore, parents make all their efforts to give to the best of their abilities,to their daughter.

And, the ‘gifts’ could be quite diverse in nature, from sponsoring a destination wedding to an exotic location to buying and setting up a new home with luxuries furniture or gifting a high-end car for son-in-law. Parents believe their daughters will be treated by her husband and in-laws based on the amount of dowry they provide. It’s also a matter of status and prestige for parents.

In India, people start saving money, invest on buying lands and jewelry as soon as a daughter is born. For the same reasons, when multiple daughters are born, parents get upset and anxious about having to save and spend a huge amount of money to get them married. Even though dowry has been declared illegal in India since 1961, the practice continues in most part of the country and sadly among educated and higher socio-economic classes.


  Dowry and Female Infanticide in India 

The huge cost associated with getting the girls married is a major reason for society’s preference of having a boy child. Girls are considered as ‘economic liabilities’ and boys as ‘assets’. Girls often do not have equal access to education and other privileges as that of a boy. Having a girl child is still considered as a misfortune in many parts of the society. Parents consider raising a girl has no benefits or ‘return’. They are primarily raised to be sent off to another family and will not be able to support or take care of the parents in old age. Moreover, there is this huge cost associated with getting them married.


 Educating a boy is always more profitable, because they are considered as the bread earners of the family and determinant of the socio-economic status of the family. There is also expectation of receiving huge dowry once they get married. Sometimes this amount is proportional to the academic degrees or kind of jobs they have. Having more than one boy in a family is considered as a great fortune and is often considered as a gateway of a huge economic gain.


In this context, it is not a wonder that girl children are not treasured in most families and in fact are absolutely unwanted in many families. Differences in the value of a boy and a girl in a family and the  financial liabilities associated with a daughter triggers families to kill or abandon new-born girl babies just after the birth. Often women are blamed, tortured or divorced for not being able to deliver a boy and even killed so that men can remarry to produce boys.


The children’s rights group CRY has estimated that of 12 million females born yearly in India 1 million would have died within their first year of life. This forced the United Nations (UN) to declare India as the “most deadly country for female children”.

    Dowry and Female Foeticide 

Female foeticide is the abortion of a female fetus illegally. People with a very high preference of a boy often take the extreme steps from not having a girl. Girl fetus are aborted or killed after the gender was determined by ultrasonography. Pre-natal sex determination is illegal in India since 1994. But it is widely carried out illegally in many clinics and some people even travel out of the country to know the gender of the fetus .

The pregnant woman or the mother is helpless in most of the cases because her own survival may depend upon listening to the parents of her husband. The Beti Bachao, or Save girls campaign, has been underway in many Indian communities since the early 2000s. The campaign uses the media to raise awareness of the gender disparities creating, and resulting from, sex-selective abortion. Beti Bachao activities include rallies, posters, short videos and television commercials, some of which are sponsored by state and local governments and other organizations.


     What Can We Do?

Dowry is strongly embedded in the culture and tradition of India and few of its neighboring countries.  It is extremely difficult to completely abolish this system. Even highly educated and economically self independent girls would not like to get married without bringing jewelry, furniture and other expensive gifts from their parents as a tradition. Breaking this tradition is usually associated with dishonoring one’s family  and risking torture or humiliation.


Every body in the society has a huge responsibility to end this social custom.  A very practical approach could be, if the groom and his family STRICTLY refuse to accept any gift in any from the bride’s family. Some young activists in India has set up online matrimonial sites like Without Dowry and Dowry Free Marriage  to register for dowry free marriage. Considering the far-reaching consequences, it is time for all of us to stand up against this evil practice.

Every parent must ensure that their daughter is valued, cared, loved and empowered enough so that she doesn’t choose to endure torture by her husband’s family. Parents must raise their daughter to become confident and independent rather than considering her as a burden.

Please save and invest on your daughter’s education, not on her dowry.


A clinical researcher by profession, I am an advocate of gender equality and women’s empowerment. I have created this platform to dismantle institutionalized gender discrimination and harmful social practices through systemic changes. Over the last few years, our contributors from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds were able to voice their concerns about a range of issues that are oppressive to women across the world. We are hopeful that our effort will help promote awareness and contribute to changing people mindset about gender roles and norms.


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