December 04, 2005
Girls Sold For Marriage In India Due To Sex Selective Abortions

A shortage of females in India due to sex selective abortion is producing a market for females as brides.

BIR KHURD, India -- Harmesh Singh, a 40-year-old vegetable farmer, had explored the conventional methods of finding a wife. He had consulted female relatives and older women in his village and buttonholed family members in other towns in a quest for leads. After years of searching, however, he still had not found a bride. So last year, he bought one.

Dipping into his meager savings, Singh paid a marriage broker to introduce him to Bibi Kaur, a runaway from Calcutta who says she is 17 but looks considerably younger. Singh would not say how much he paid, but social workers in the area say the fee typically ranges from $100 to $300, depending on the age and appearance of the bride-to-be.

So runaway girls in India probably get hunted down by marriage brokers.

The relative wealth of the Punjab state allows people to afford ultrasound and sex selective abortions. As a result in 2001 there were only 874 females per 1000 males. Probably the imbalance is even greater at younger ages. Once again, the streets find their own uses for technology. The uses often bear little resemblance to the goals the developers of a technology had in mind.

Some girls get sold by their families.

The dearth of potential young brides in Punjab has fueled a demand for women from poor eastern states such as West Bengal and from neighboring Bangladesh and Nepal, where the sex ratio is not as skewed but unemployment and poverty are widespread. Some of the women go willingly. But others are enticed by false promises of jobs, social workers say, or are sold by their families to brokers, a practice that is illegal.

Keep in mind that many of these people are extremely poor. The sale of a daughter might yield money to something valuable for food like a water buffalo.

What I want to know: Will the selling of females essentially as slaves lead to an end to dowry and eventually even a rise in the status of women in India? Or will only further industrialization create conditions that raise the status of women?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 December 04 10:02 PM  Trends Demographic

James Bowery said at December 5, 2005 9:21 AM:

The very idea of women vs men as an "interest group" is strange. Social and political scientists need to achieve consilience with sociobiology.

What I think happens when we see "economic progress" coupled with "the increasing status of women" is simply emergence of de facto polygyny in an urbanized setting. Transitioning to polygyny isn't an increase in status for women. It is an Africanization of civilization. However, one might say that the status of harem women in Africa is higher than corporate concubines in an urbanized settings since African concubines usually have direct access to food by way of their involvement in agriculture. Most don't have to go get a paycheck from their harem master every other week in order to have food and shelter, and are less likely to find themselves homeless and hungry when they reach middle age and are "downsized" out of their subsistence.

Mirco said at December 5, 2005 12:33 PM:

"Will the selling of females essentially as slaves lead to an end to dowry and eventually even a rise in the status of women in India? Or will only further industrialization create conditions that raise the status of women?"

The dowry required will surely go down, if it continue to exist.
If men need to pay to marry, it is improbable that they will be able to ask for any dowry.
Better again, as they need to pay good money for find a good bride, they will be deterred to kill or beat them.

This is probably happening in many more places around the world:
one for all is Saudi Arabia (3:4 female/male ratio) where there is a growing number of saudis that marry alien women working there (usually from east asia). This probably will screw the demography of KSA and much more.

scott cunningham said at December 6, 2005 6:54 AM:

Some of this may be due to Hepatitis B, too. See Emily Oster's paper on this.

Prince said at December 6, 2005 3:23 PM:

"as they need to pay good money for find a good bride, they will be deterred to kill or beat them."

I would have to disagree, this could go either way and would vary between individuals. If women are seen more as properties now that they are purchased, then the female is de-humanized and more susceptible to beatings. Its easier to hit an object compared to a person. I would imagine that if the bride is purchased, she doesnt have a family, or back-up income to fall back on. Thus the bride cannot run away for if she does she will die of hunger. So she will have to suffer and cope with the beatings.


jimcrack said at December 8, 2005 3:51 PM:

jim bowery -- the word I think youre looking for is "polyandry" (polygyny = polygamy)

H L Mencken said the government most people get is the government most people deserve. Cultures that rely so extensively on sex selection are defective in the extreme. If they experience a child bust amid growing demand for senior support systems (retirement) and have competitive problems thereafter, and more social schisms, that's the free market. At least in Punjab women will have greater economic value than to be thrown on a funeral pyre to conserve inherited wealth for males. They will spend their earnings at some point for education and learn to say no to their poor cousins when they ask for a helping hand to support 5.2 hungry mouths per cousin.

emilia said at December 8, 2005 8:05 PM:

While scholars may argue cultural relativism in their pristine ivory towers, living and breathing humans will definitely express strong cultural preferences. The practices in both India and China (Muslim nations should not be forgotten) are simply appalling.

Patrick said at December 9, 2005 2:33 AM:

Relatives in North East China say that a huge number of North Korean women are escaping into the Chinese marriage market.

Meaning that North Korean sex ratios are going to get even worse, but they have so many problems (Bird Flu reports for example) that it probably doesn't even make their top ten.

Raj Datta said at December 22, 2005 1:30 PM:

The previous comments I have read here come to view Indian women being treated as second calss citizens. This practice (which is rarer than this post article claims) is the same actiopan American men do to "purchase" Russian, Chinese women. But I guess because they are "over ther" it makes them the bad guy.

First, India has had a female PM and President. With all the gender rights in the U.S. the argument that India doesn't respect geder rights is has laughable as the idea that the U.S. does. The U.S. promotes the horing of our women, while India promotes humbleness and civility. This is where me and christian right agree. The moral fabric of this country has gone down the tubes in the name of "freedom."

Dowry, is an unfortunate fact in Indian society. Ihave had first hand expiernce of this when my cousin was about to marry. As soon as the issue of more payment came up, my uncle broke it off. It's amazing ho archaic, yet advanced Indian society is, and also how adanced and archaic american society it. Will we ever hit a happy medium?

Madhurima Roy said at May 9, 2008 6:39 AM:

It seems from your article that dowry has been eradicated. The men have to actually PAY to get wives and as you mentioned, the girl's family earns by selling her off, so the question of dowry does not arise. Another encouraging development of this skewed sex ratio is that men out of sheer desperation are looking for (or buying) wives from different communities and castes which was unthinkable, especially in rural India.

I feel the treatment of these bought women and the lives they lead are the bigger concerns here. The main problem seems to be lack of education and training in women so they cannot lead productive lives and are considered a burden to the family. The Indian sex ratio is skewed across rural and urban India regardless of community and economic status. In this senario (from my own personal experience), urban girls who are educated and gainfully employed can benefit from this skewed ratio as they have more choice of partners and have the resources to assert themselves and make their choices. Also, since they are financial assets for their own educated families, the question of selling them off doesn't arise.

This issue boils down to female education leading to employment and empowerment. As an analogy, suppose these is a scarcity of water buffaloes in India. This will not lead to better "treatment" of the existing buffalloes and will only increase pressures on them to produce more milk. Similarly, if women cannot be given the tools and freedom to make their own decisions, they will end up being treated at par with farm animals. Rare, but not respected.

vijay said at January 13, 2009 7:30 PM:

What do i do if my wife is ugly?

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