The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study, “Laws and son preference in India”, authored by advocate Kirti Singh, recommends a new, anti-discriminatory legal framework to guide laws and policies for women and girls.
It reviews key laws relating to women, including dowry, inheritance, child marriage, sex-selection and sexual assault, and finds that the laws themselves and their interpretation, non-implementation or absence may directly propagate son preference.
“A deeply entrenched preference for sons exists for various reasons, including that a son inherits property, whereas a daughter is perceived as more of a burden due to factors such as dowry,” Frederika Meijer, UNFPA representative for India and Bhutan said.
Laws and policies for girls and women should be guided by a more explicit anti-discrimination legal framework that spells out substantive and procedural rights for women in different fields of work and in greater detail and applies to state and private actors, the study suggested.
The study finds some legal provisions are not just inadequate in checking son preference, but also promote the practice, and end up being discriminatory.
Priority must be given to reform inheritance laws, specifically land and tenancy laws, so that women, as widows and daughters, inherit equally shares of property as sons and male members, the study recommends.
The study also seeks revision of the definition of dowry under the the Dowry Prohibition Act, to make child marriage invalid below a certain age.
Laws are absent in critical areas of discrimination and violence, such as laws to address honour crimes and those relating to marital property rights, the report said.