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UNFPA report reviews laws on women, impact on son preference

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Laws to check gender discrimination and son preference in the country are often ineffective and sometimes may advance discriminatory practices, a UN study said, advocating that the policies should be guided by a more explicit anti-discrimination legal framework.

The report, "Laws and Son Preference in ", recommends the need for a new, anti-discrimination legal framework to guide laws and policies for women and girls.

The UNFPA study, reviews key laws relating to women including dowry, inheritance, child marriage, sex-selection, and sexual assault. It finds that the laws themselves, and their interpretation, non-implementation or absence, may directly or indirectly 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 - a practice that continues to prevail despite being illegal.

"Laws and their implementation are the backbone of social change. They hold the potential to change mind sets and stem generations of gender discrimination. This study offers a new perspective on reforming laws so that they work for women and girls," said Frederika Meijer, UNFPA Representative for India and Bhutan.

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, it said.

This suggestion for a more comprehensive framework is in line with the Bill of Rights in the Verma Committee Report that details the grounds on which women cannot be discriminated against.

The study, authored by Kirti Singh, found that some legal provisions are not just inadequate in checking son preference, but also promote the practice and end up being discriminatory for women. It gave an example of Goa Law on Polygamy that permits a second marriage for the husband when there is no son from the first marriage.

The study strongly recommends removing such blatantly discriminatory provisions. The study also unpacks judgements related to different gender laws that tend to at times uphold son preference than address it.

Priority must be given to reform inheritance laws, reform land and tenancy laws, so that women as widows and daughters inherit equally as sons and male members of the family.

In addition, it recommends revising the definition of Dowry under the Dowry Prohibition Act and making child marriage invalid below a certain age.

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