Monday, October 22, 2007

India’s girls – undervalued and killed

Traditional society in India sees female children as liabilities. Males carry on the family name and provide for parents in their old age whereas females can cost families expensive wedding dowries. In the past, infanticide was a common solution to dealing with unwanted female babies. With the advances of technology and the ability to determine gender prior to birth abortion has become more common despite being illegal on the basis of gender. The result has been a growing imbalance in sex ratios in the population with fewer women available for marriage to the growing number of males.

This is from the BBC:
Earlier this year in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, farmer Ram Kumar made a shocking discovery.

Sticking out of the earth was a tiny human hand.

Barely audible, were the cries of a newborn baby.

"There was a girl wrapped in a cloth and buried deep in the ground," said Ram Kumar.

"The baby should not have been alive but somehow it was."

The two-day old baby was rushed to a local hospital to recover from her ordeal. Her grandfather meanwhile confessed to the girl's attempted murder.

With seven daughters to provide for, he claimed he could not afford the burden and expense of having yet another girl in the household.

Doctors named the girl Bhoo Laxmi, the earth goddess. She is one of thousands of baby girls who every week are abandoned, aborted or killed, simply because of their gender.

Boys are still prized more than girls because they will carry on the family name and traditionally provide for parents in their old age.

"From an early age, girls are made to feel they are a burden," says Sandhya Reddy, who runs the Aarti Children's Home in the nearby town of Kadapa.

The majority of abandoned children in the home are girls.

"Parents worry about finding the money to pay the wedding dowries of daughters," she says.

Demanding dowry has been banned for 50 years in India but it is a tradition that lives on across all social classes.

So great is the burden that girls are seen to place on a family, that some believe it is better that they are never born.

In the past, infanticide was seen as one solution. Now with advances in medical technology, many parents are resorting to ultrasound scans to determine the gender of the baby.

If it is a girl, parents often pay for an abortion.

Sex selection tests and abortion on the basis of gender have been banned for 15 years in India. But the law has simply forced the trade underground.

UN figures state that 750,000 girls are aborted every year in India.

Sex ratios are now some of the lowest in the country, with official government figures showing that there are only 840 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Despite government efforts to end sex selection, it has meant there is now a marked shortage of brides.

Twenty-four-year-old Rameher had to travel nearly 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) to find his wife.

He could not get married in Haryana due to a shortage of women and his parents were obliged to make contact with families in poorer states like Jharkhand.

"I was afraid that God hadn't destined a wife for me and that I would be a bachelor all my life," says Rameher.

"Rameher is lucky," says his father Kehar Singh. "There are many men who cannot get brides even in this way because they have no money. They will die unmarried."
You can read the entire BBC piece here.

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