‘Are you having a baby? I hope it’s a boy’

Published: April 19, 2011

In an era where cell phones and Botox have changed our lifestyles, our mentality is still not very different from the dark ages.

If you browse through any Urdu newspaper’s classified section, you might come across an ad that says “beta” (son) in big, bold letters.

If you read further, it says “Inshallah, beta ho ga” (God willing, it’ll be a son).

And it’s not just newspapers. People send spam text messages like “Boy or girl, choice is yours”. This is a gruesome reality that tells us our thinking has not evolved at all.

The stigma attached to the birth of a female child in our society is undeniable. No matter which class you belong to, every family (both father and mother) wants their next child to be a son. Men go as far as marrying multiple wives just because they believe a particular woman is “meant” only to bear girls. So much so, that I once heard a woman respond to the news of a female birth as “Oho! Kuch nahi hota” (It’s okay). For all those protesting against the honor killings of women in rural areas, why ignore those lamenting the birth of girls in the first place in the urban areas?

One of the major reasons for this stigma, which no one talks about, is the tradition of dowry. It is a tradition against the teachings of Islam which in fact make it obligatory for the groom to pay the bride upon marriage in the form of Mahr.

The moment a girl is born, the first thought in her father’s mind is about her dowry, not her name. I have seen well-educated and noble families sending lists of articles they want as dowry along with a bride. A family, on average, spends more than one million rupees ($11,700) to marry their daughter off.

This is in sharp contrast to the generally accepted limit of Mahr, which is one month’s salary of the husband. And even that may be spared “willfully” by the bride.

Furthermore, Mahr is often mistaken as an amount that is to be given upon dissolution of marriage, ergo the following consequences.

In major cities, among the 1,210 infants found dead in 2010 by the Edhi Foundation, nine out of 10 were female.

Even though the ratio of male to female births is greater than one male per female, it rises to 1.06 males per female for the ages 0-14 years.

Along with this, we hear stories of both blatant murders and an increasing number of burning “accidents” right after marriage.

All said and done, the future is still a big question mark. Such thinking and associated traditions are engraved deeply in our minds generation after generation. As long as the stigma attached to the female child is there, we will remain an immature, backward society.


Ahmad Malik

A medical student based in Lahore who tweets @Ahmad_Malik

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

More by this writer

  • http://na deep

    I dont think dowry is the reason. This preference for boys exists in Western societies as well. From property rights and carrying on the family name to the Oedipus complex – take your pick. The only way this social prejudice can be corrected is through personal example – allow your daughters enough choice to realise their potential. Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sir.Bakr Abu Bakr Agha

    According to women’s rights advocates, the perceptions of women as property, and of reputation, are so deeply entrenched in the social, political and economic fabric of Pakistan that the government mostly disregards the regular occurrences of women being killed and maimed by their families. – And this hold true for the people too. Its culture, and it dates back into our roots in Medieval India when the status of women started falling so much that they were actually seen as property.

    Although i don’t agree that this problem is irrespective of class and that every family thinks this way. I agree that a vast majority do, but i believe its more common in similar casts, backgrounds and upbringing.

    Excellent bllog.Recommend

  • Maria

    @deep: Families want a son to carry on the family name and provide for the household but that’s changing because most Pakistani families I know want both boys and girls. I don’t think the dowry is an issue in Pakistan because it’s the boy’s family that has to pay for everything or at least most of the wedding expenses in Pakistan. I recall my father insisted that my husband pay for land and a certain sum placed in the bank before the marriage to show that he could afford to have a bride. This is the culture in many parts of rural Northern Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The girls family pays for very little compared to the boy’s family so dowry is not an issue.Recommend

  • Meerza R Khan

    When you do not have guts and; do not have the stomach to digest Direct Comments please do not Post Blogs on fb, I am on the FB Marshals list & i am reporting you for the same. The Dialated Blogs are not encouraged and are seen as a means of Yellow Journalism, Best regards,Recommend

  • seeker

    another stagnant post with a catchy photograph———– our society does this, does that,
    for heaven sake forgive this poor maiden ——— society.
    come up with some suggestions,———- what to do for the improvement?
    Deep is right, at least set your personal example, at least.Recommend

  • Jeddy

    When I became the proud father of a daughter and distributed sweets amongst my friends and family members -most people said “We’ve never heard of any being so happy over the birth of his daughter”. Others said “We pray you have a son, next time”. Is it not joyful that I was a father of a daughter? Most of the above comments were made by women strangely enough. Why does the birth of a daughter shake people up so badly? Years ago – there was this person who was weeping when his daughter was born – instead of jumping with joy. Is there something I am missing here?Recommend

  • joy

    reading this blog I am reminded of my stay in the north-eastern Indian town of Shillong. On the third day of my arrival there, I was invited to a wedding and, after the priest pronounced the newly weds as man and wife, the groom’s party burst into tears….For me it was something very unusual….
    Later I discovered that as per the local custom..the groom moves to the bride’s house after marriage…..not only that..the family name comes from the mother’s side and the property goes to the youngest daughter…

    In that part of my country they celebrate when a girl child is born


  • Muhammad Junaid Akhter

    do not agree, you must not watch private channel dramas brother which just expose a very specific kind of ppl who think like this. Hv a glance at out society we love our sisters and daughters. though this do happen but it is now a rare case not in majority. in fact i believe this was never in majority but unfortunately the media only covered such cases more widely.Recommend

  • Mehr Bilal

    Nice article but show only the one side, I think this is in human nature that he looks for the “something more” or “something else”. So as I experience that if someone has sons they (especially father) wish to have a daughter so as we know the daughter is “REHMAT” if a group is denying this that is just their feelings/opinion. SO remember ALLAH AL MIGHTY has the only ONE who will favor the humans with sons, daughters, both or nothing. Recommend

  • Rehan Ali

    Although preference for male child exist but that is not because of the dowry. It is only because traditionally girls move to live with their husbands and parents live with their male wards. Its not the family name or anything emotional but its simply and plainly selfish desire. larka hoga to burhape ka sahara bane ga because he will stay with or keep the parents. In the pointed case girls cannot in certain cases earn as much as boys and hence greed play its role.

    Boy or a girl, the first feeling is of gratitude. The second … well it does not come as you are asked to rush out to fetch diapers and formula milk. :)Recommend

  • Tony Singh

    In this regard, we the South Asian specially the Pakistanis and North Indians are one. We are indeed the MCPs. Inspite of knowing daughters are more caring than sons, we want sons. Never understood the logic.Recommend

  • mariam k.

    good topic but the blog lacks a deep analysis of the problem. people are right, it just states the problem. explains nothing new in terms of research about human psyche.
    but a good question is why do women not favour women in our society???Recommend

  • Karachities

    @Muhammad Junaid Akhter:
    Good to see you Dar here. :)Recommend

  • sajida

    Respected All, We all are Muslims and our Holy Prophet Hazrat Mohammad (SAWW) HAVE Daughter Bibi JanabeFatima (as). In Quran said “hum ney tum ko kosar atta farmai” all things are fake . on this note,
    every one knows who is the priority daughter or son?Recommend

  • Waqas

    @sajida : what u really wana say at least i dint get u !!

    Further regarding this topic of preference to bring up child either a girl or a boy both need equal responsibilities so at 1st stage Child is ALLAH’s blessing so always show happiness that you are blessed.

    Now in our society is a male dominant thats why parents prefer to have a boy child so that he could easily and smoothly go and run his studies and other social happenings, where as just consider the scenario of 27th Dec 2007 when benazir was assassinated thousands of girls were trapped while coming home from universities/offices and many among them were abused. so until and unless the condition of law and order of any country remains bad the parents will like to have a boy as child after all which parent wants to see its child being harassed etc.

    Another big reason is that people in general and parents in particular do not follow islam in true spirit and it is said in several ahdees and Quran bring up girl child good if one (parent) wants to please ALLAH TAALA.Recommend

  • Muhammad Junaid Akhter

    @Karachities :)

    Ur Identity plz :DRecommend

  • parvez

    I feel you have generalised a little too much and painted all of society with the same brush, which is not right.Recommend

  • A

    in my view its no difference, especially in the western culture.
    the problem in pak is that people want to have kids, they can rely on. and that is quite difficult if ur daughter marries and goes to her husbands home. the son is then the main source of income and as we dont have any kind of general social security…i cant blame ppl for having the wish of having sons.
    i peronally think u should only wish for 1 if you already have a daughter and would like to have both. :)Recommend

  • alpha gamma

    @Joy…haha lol :)Recommend

  • Tony Singh

    @alpha gamma:
    What Joy writes is true.Recommend

  • Mohsin

    Nice Try but this is old concept , and debatable issue as well Recommend

  • No More Mr. Nice Guy

    @joy: “In that part of my country they celebrate when a girl child is born“. In other parts of India they are killed for not bringing enough dowry, tsk tsk!Recommend

  • maya

    its a larger issue than just a girl boy issue.

    we are dictated by our societies, and the society chooses what and how we do it.

    if we all live according to what we really want from our lives…. this issue wd become much less.

    our careers, marraige, when we hav our first child… all is dictated by society, our mothers fathers, sisters………..Recommend

  • Silent Spectator

    I agree with parvez that the author has generalized too much and painted most Pakistanis with the same brush. I ask the author if he has ever read or researched about the treatment of girls in China? Has the author ever wondered why so many Chinese kids are up for adoption each year, most of them girls by the way? Read this article if you want another perspective. Also, I disagree with some of the views regarding “Mahr”. The issues raised don’t really jive with what I know about “mahr”.
    Finally, I strongly disagree with the statement “the moment a girl is born, the first thought in her father’s mind is about her dowry, not her name.” This is simply untrue and demeans the entire Pakistani populace. I don’t quite understand this new concept of bashing Pakistan and everything Pakistani. Recommend

  • MS – Mariya

    @Maria: Agree with you!

    @deep & joy: reading this blog reminded me of a friend who was a topper since school. Earned a gold medal , joined a multinational company and started climbing the ladder of success. It all changed after she gave birth to two girls..she didnt had any issues but the pressure from the society changed this woman! She staretd praying day and night for a son!! performed Umras!! and finally gave birth to a baby son. I don’t know if education alone can put an end to this mentality. Recommend

  • Nobody

    Having been born and bred in a western society, I have almost NEVER seen a preference for boys over girls. If anything, I’ve seen it the other way around for some. There are a number of reasons eastern countries have a preference for boys, one being dowry, one being a “guarantee” parents will be taken care of in their old age, or throughout their remaining life. That, as far as they are concerned can only be done by a son because society there feels a daughter is no longer theirs after she is married. That mentality VERY RARELY exists in western societies today.Recommend

  • Rehan Ali

    He bestows female (offspring) upon whom He wills, and bestows male (offspring) upon whom He wills. Or He bestows both males and females, and He renders barren whom He wills. Verily, He is the All-Knower and is Able to do all things.” (surah Ash-Shura # 49-50)Recommend

  • Elaine

    We have a saying in the U.S. that goes “A son is a son ’til he takes a wife. A daughter’s a daughter all of her life.”

    Once a young man marries, his wife is usually the one calling the shots regarding family visits, visitors, and how often grandparents see the kids. That is why we have that saying.

    When my daughter was a baby and I’d be out and about, I can’t tell you how many times strangers (always women) would look at my little girl, sigh, and say, “I always wanted a daughter,” the implication being that the woman only got boys.

    Men usually want sons however, because they have visions of playing ball with them, and doing other guy-bonding stuff.

    The idea of a dowry or bride price fascinates and bewilders us. Recommend

  • SJ

    @Joy, same thing happens in Malay families.
    When we (five siblings) were growing up, we always complained to our parents that our sisters were given favorable treatment all the times and us brothers were always in trouble. Now that I’m a parent my son has the same complain. I know my little princess is not always right but my anger is hardly directed towards her. I think we all learn from our parents. Recommend