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Department of Anthropology: Asian (In)Fertilities

News

Selected news stories from the international press relating to Asian (In)Fertilities:

Opinion: Whose baby is it anyway? - Times of India

(26 July 2009)

The choice of motherhood barely exists for Indian women, whatever be their circumstances.

The Court ruling has pushed the 19-year-old girl into the headlines but she may be unaware about the debate surrounding her condition. As things stand, she seems to have little say in the matter. But should it be the Indian women's inalienable right to reproduce, whether or not she is fitted to the task? "It's not just a right, it's a woman's 'damn' duty to reproduce," says Radhika Chandiramani, director of Talking About Reproductive And Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI), a non-profit organization. The disabled are not spared. "Disability doesn't mean you don't have the right (to choose)," says Neha Madhiwala, coordinator at Mumbai's Centre for Studies in Ethics and Rights. "Earlier, disability meant that your personal rights were negotiable, but not anymore." Of course, the decision to go ahead with a pregnancy ultimately depends on the severity of the woman's disability and how far gone her pregnancy is, she adds. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 decrees that a pregnancy cannot be terminated beyond 20 weeks. The choice - to have a baby or not – barely exists for Indian women. Often, women are not even asked. They are simply told - by men - what to do. They are forced to have multiple pregnancies, whether their health permits it or not. A 2008 UNICEF study revealed India's shocking maternal mortality rate - 450 deaths per 100,000 live births. Every year, women die from childbirth and pregnancy-related complications. But few have the nerve to stand up and say they don't want to go ahead with a pregnancy. "It's not just poor, uneducated rural women who have no choice. Even educated, so-called liberated women are unable to exercise a right which is theirs," says Ranjana Kumari of Delhi's Centre for Social Research. She adds that women are allowed only to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. "Then it's a hush-hush affair." The moment a woman gets married, the pressure mounts for her to have a child, says Chandiramani. If she doesn't within a few years, she is subject to considerable harassment. In rural India, the situation is arguably worse. Often, a barren wife is reason enough for a man to marry again. The courts favour the man, says Flavia Agnes, a women's rights lawyer. If a woman chooses not to have a child though her husband wants one and he decides to divorce her, the courts support him. "They see it as cruelty to husbands. A woman's body and sexuality belong to men in this country," she notes wryly. Things are changing, but very slowly indeed. Today's younger, more upwardly mobile urban women are exerting their rights with many choosing not to have children or have them later in life. But Chandiramani cautions that it is only a very small number who are quite so assertive about their reproductive rights and change is still a long way off.

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