The Death Of A Baby, The Birth Of Terror: Female Infanticide And Terrorism


Female infanticide is the selective abortion of a female fetus or the killing of female babies after birth. This occurs because of cultural norms equating socio-economic superiority to the male sex, as married women traditionally live with their husband’s family, thus leaving their parents without future support. It can also be a means for a poor family to avoid paying a dowry to the daughter’s future family-in-law. As investigated by Laila Williamson, this practice has historically been performed on all continents; however, in modern times infanticide continued only in patriarchal countries such as India and China. Amartya Sen estimates that there are 100 million fewer women in Asia due to selective abortions, which was worsened by China’s one-child policy. As a result, the CIA world factbook estimates the sex ratio in China to be 1.06 males to every 1 female in a population of over a billion. Scholars such as Gus Martin have labelled this as an act of gender-based terrorism and “gendercide”. While I agree with this statement, in this article I will outline how female infanticide helps to promote terrorist groups and how it can create future terrorists.

The most direct reasoning for why female infanticide and selective abortion can give rise to terrorism is that they create a surplus of men, young men in particular. It has been proven by Henrik Urdal that one of the core phenomena that give rise to extremist and rebel groups is the abundance of young males, particularly those between 15-24 years of age. These men are often under or unemployed, single and without purpose. Being without a spouse often correlates with a lack economic resources, as women in these cultures favour marrying men who can support themselves and their future family, will which give rise to feelings of disenfranchisement in those refused. Christopher Gramer notes that it is not merely the matter of a lack of wealth or being single that will cause young men to join terrorist groups, but the status and identity that the groups can offer.

A more direct connection between female infanticide and terrorism is that it creates a reinforcing cycle of patriarchy. Women who abort or kill infant girls due to cultural pressure illustrate that this regressive cultural practice is associated with obedience, honour, and an lack of appreciation for life. This is imparted to the infant males taking the place of their aborted sisters, this will be further indoctrinated as they grow into adulthood. Therefore, if the near universal taboo of killing healthy children merely because of their gender is deemed acceptable, then killing adults who are seen as guilty of some action is more easily accepted. This cultural treatment of death and mortality lends itself to terrorism, as violence is seen as a rational choice to achieve an acquired end.

Female infanticide is a visible illustration of the socio-economic conditions that give rise to terrorist groups. This includes people being so alienated and discriminated against or economically disenfranchised that they resort to killing their children. However, a solution to improve the socio-economic situation is well-known and outlined in documents, such as the UN Millennium Development Goals. The remedy to this dilemma comes in the form of the emancipation of women. This includes freeing women from traditional roles in the home, increasing equal education, and allowing women control over their own reproductive rights. Thus, increased women’s rights in society improves socio-economic problems, which removes popular support for terrorist groups.

A further dilemma is that allowing or not policing female infanticide shows a governmental lack of control over its population. As shown by the work of Collier and Hoeffler, mountainous regimes lead to an increased likelihood of rebellions or civil war. This also applies to terrorism, as it allows groups the ability to evade governmental forces due to the difficulty in policing such rough terrain. Since the majority of cases of gendered infanticide take place in rural areas (whereas selective-sex abortion, which utilizes ultrasound to identify the sex of the fetus, is carried out in urban areas), this illustrates that the government has a lack of control and, therefore, cannot tackle the growth of or fully fledged terrorism. This also shows that these areas are removed from the economic sections of society and are alienated, even discriminated, from economic and political opportunities

The effect this has upon terrorism is already evident in countries such as Pakistan, which has a history of terrorism.  This stems from the mountainous terrain, weak government, neighbouring countries, and the extremist interpretation of Islam (despite the fact that the Qur’an strictly forbids infanticide). The emerging danger has yet to emerge in countries such as China. This is a growing threat due to socio-political issues, anger at the one-child policy, and the male children reaching adulthood who feel unattached or economically weak that feel alienated from society. I believe, if not this generation then the next, that this anger will create the growth of anti-establishment or anti-capitalist/industrial groups that seek a return to previous moments of Chinese history, with a strong emphasis on times when masculinity has had a strong presence in society.

I believe that the best way to tackle this threat is a threefold response. Firstly, I believe that infanticide stems from desperation and ignorance, therefore education will be a crucial tool. Education for both genders will demonstrate to future parents that a daughter is just as capable of supporting their family as a man in the new economic system (a further step would be the removal of dowries). Secondly, the best prevention is pre-emption, meaning that contraception should be widely available to those in need (this will mean overcoming cultural and religious stigma to contraception, which could be tackled through education). Finally, I argue that infanticide should be policed and, if caught, heavily punished to set an example. I believe that this severe step should only be taken once the approaches of education and contraception have had time to take effect. This would punish all who commit infanticide, be their reasons desperation or choice.

Ross Field

Currently studying a MSc in Security Studies at University College London