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Study blames Indian inheritance law reforms for spike in female foeticide

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Population & associated issues

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Impact of legislative reforms on sex-ratio in India


News

  • India’s discriminatory and anti-women inheritance laws appear to have failed to mitigate society’s long-held preference for sons, according to a new study.
  • The findings are supported by the Economic Survey 2017-18, which found an estimated 63 million women–roughly the population of the UK is ‘missing’ in India.

About the Study

  1. The study was conducted by researchers at King’s College University, New York University and the University of Essex, and published in the Journal of Development Economics.
  2. It used data from three rounds of the National Family Health Survey (1991-92, 1998-9 and 2005-6) and the Rural Economic and Demographic Survey (REDS) 2006.

Son-biased fertility stopping behaviour

  1. Instead of change of law between 1970 to 1990 has inadvertently led to increased female foeticide and higher female infant-mortality rates, finds the 2018 study.
  2. It analysed that families desires for a second child if the first child was a girl.
  3. The study finds that girls born after legal reforms were 2-3 % more likely to die before reaching their first birthday, and 9 % more likely to have a younger sibling if the firstborn child was a girl.
  4. The researchers studied families living in five “early-reformer” states-Kerala, AP, TN, Maharashtra and Karnataka- which amended the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
  5. These states allowed equal inheritance rights for women and men, at different dates between 1970 and 1990.

Hindu Succession Act, 1956

  1. Under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, only sons had a direct right to ancestral property, excluding daughters from inheritance claims where the father did not leave a will.
  2. From the 1970s onwards, changes in inheritance legislation sought to empower women by strengthening their financial and social position and reducing dependence on male relatives.
  3. The traditional preference for sons was also supposed to lessen, because daughters, backed by possession of the family home, would be able to offer parents security in old age.
  4. Equally, this was expected to eradicate the dowry system, a key contributing factor to the perception of a daughter as a financial burden.

Son-preference entrenched, women remain dispossessed

  1. Instead, the reforms appear to have had “unintended” effects leading to the “elimination of girls”, as social norms that organise family structures and alliances have not kept pace with changes to the law, the study finds.
  2. Awarding inheritance rights to women makes parents more averse to having a daughter rather than a son,” the study says.
  3. This is because families fear that the cost of having a girl increases because property inherited by women risks falling into the control of her in-laws.

Why women remain dispossessed?

  1. Changes to inheritance law are therefore not likely to improve women’s income, since it’s unlikely the woman would get to control that new asset -which has now been acquired by her marital family.
  2. There also remains a strong incentive for parents to continue rewarding a son who works on and develops a family’s land, thus contributing to the family’s “wealth creation” and security for both parties later in life.
  3. Parents perceive the risk of upsetting a son by dispossessing him of the entire property as too high, one that could impact on the quality of their future care.
  4. Parents would want to avoid splitting up the property, making it less productive, since the only way of sharing between siblings is by selling the property and distributing the proceeds.

Contemporary trends

  1. The proportion of women inheriting property “did not increase significantly following the reform,” the study says.
  2. Although laws now allow women to make legal claims to property, very few make such a move, which is perceived as anti-social and rebellious.
  3. The family is a close knit-system, girls don’t want to go against parents and brothers and fight for property if they are denied it.
  4. The entire dowry system says that the daughters have already been given a share of the money, so they’re not entitled to the property.

Status Quo on Son Preference

  1. Up to 77% of Indian parents expect to live with their sons in old age, following a ‘Patrilocal’ system where sons remain in the family home after marriage while daughters leave to join their in-laws.
  2. As per this system, by remaining in and working on the ancestral land, plus caring for parents in old age, the son is usually ‘rewarded’ by inheriting the entire property after the parents’ death.
  3. Legal reforms mandating that parents must now share equal portions of the ancestral property with both sons and daughters appear to have not changed this dynamic.
  4. Son preference remains the status quo, suggesting that patriarchal traditions exert a stronger force on parents than legislation correcting historical gender biases.

Way Forward

  1. We need a multi-prong effort focused on empowerment, education and targeted social welfare schemes that work at various levels in society for adult women.
  2. Though the legislative reform is perceived as a property issue, it’s not really — there’s a deeply ingrained internalised bias in favour of the male child which needs to be addressed.
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