The hit movie Slumdog Millionaire (2008) shows one of the characters Latika being treated very harshly by gangsters and forced to prostitute. As showed in the movie, the treatment of females is a very serious problem in India nowadays, and is apparently getting worse, as millions of baby girls are being aborted or killed shortly after being born. According to a census that was reported last March, there are 914 girls for every 1000 boys (between 0-6 years) when 10 years ago, there were 927 girls. A study conducted by the medical journal Lancet, also concluded that between the years 1980 and 2010, roughly 4-10 million baby girls had been sacrificed by abortion.
This phenomenon, where baby girls are killed due to their gender, is referred to as female infanticide, or female feticide which is the act of aborting a female fetus after a sex determination test. An article by John-Thor Dahlburg of the Los Angeles Times reported how insensitive Indian women are to killing their own babies. Lakshmi, already a mother of one daughter killed her second baby simply because it was a girl. Lakshmi refused to nurse the baby and eventually fed her a mixture of hazardous liquids causing her to die. Lakshmi buried her baby with other neighbors and stated “Instead of making her suffer the way I do in this society, I thought it was better to get rid of her.” Though the elimination of the baby girls or fetuses is being done by the mothers, it is nonetheless an act of murder, and a horrifying act that needs to be stopped immediately.
Why kill the girls?
The biggest reason that babies are being killed is because of the expensive dowry. Payment of dowry is an age-old tradition in which the parents of the bride give large amounts of money and other expensive goods to the groom’s family. This tradition originates from the thought that men are more valuable than women and that the groom’s family is doing a favor by buying the bride, who isn’t financially productive. The dowry system puts a big burden on the bride’s family, since the expected amount is usually $35,000 (40 million won) but the average commoner usually earns about $3,500 (4 million won) a year. The bigger problem is that the dowry isn’t a one-time event. In the case of moving, a birth of a baby, the death of a family member, when a member of the groom’s family gets married and other big and small events, the bride’s family is required to pay additional money to help out. Also, the treatment that a bride receives differs according to the size of the dowry she has paid. The dowry system is forbidden by law, but is very much still being practiced. Sending a single daughter off to marriage is economically devastating to the family, so from their point of view, it is reasonable to not raise a girl at all.
The development of technology has only made it easier for families to detect the gender of their babies at an early stage and immediately have an abortion. This is why the gender ratio is most uneven in India’s wealthiest regions. It has been reported that even India’s rich and educated population have a preference for boys, and these people have enough money to afford an abortion. Also, the wealthy population tends to have only 1-2 children and they have fewer chances succeeding in having a boy so they have a tendency to go ahead with abortion without any hesitation. Poorer regions usually have big families, so even if a daughter is born, they can have a son the next time, who will be able to carry on the family name. It is because of this reason that poor regions have an even more uneven gender ratio than wealthier regions.
There was a time when South Korea also had an excessive preference for male babies, and the Economist once stated in an article, that this is the reason that South Korea has so many foreign brides in the countryside. In 2008, 11% of all marriages were international, usually between a Korean man and foreign woman. South Korea is recognized as a wealthy country which is why many women are willing to come, but India is still poor in most of its regions. If the preference for male babies continues in India, it is a possibility that the men could live out their lives without being married.
The South Korean government along with its’ citizens, improved upon the imbalance in gender ratio by making efforts in female education, banning gender discrimination, and making active rulings against gender discrimination. However, these events occurred naturally as our country became wealthy. It is a well-known fact that the speed at which South Korea developed economically is very unusual, and it would take too long for that sort of natural change to take place in India.
Increased crime rates are also a problem that comes with uneven gender ratios. Female infanticide is also a severe problem in China, and statistics show that as the gender ratio became uneven during the past 20 years, crime rates have doubled. The crimes consist of kidnapping of brides, sex trafficking, and rape. ‘In Bare Branches’, a book that deals with uneven gender ratios, researchers claim that the persistence of these kinds of problems could lead to a very authoritarian maintenance of public order.
India had established a Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961, which carries a sentence of up to two years for a person who demands a dowry. However in most cases, families of the bride and groom negotiate on the size of the dowry before the actual marriage takes place, and many women are being killed, or even commit suicide for not being able to pay the dowry that was promised. In a situation where people still think that a boy is much more valuable than a girl, it is nearly impossible to catch every single case in which a dowry is paid. Much effort needs to be put in actively in order to change the general perception in India that women are inferior to men, so that the people of India will report the payment of a dowry or the mistreatment of a woman voluntarily.
What can be done to stop this?
In order for this to happen, laws or customs that don’t allow women to inherit fortune should be abolished. The government should also prepare a budget to provide support funds for families that have female babies, and require all companies to employ a certain amount of women. These acts will help the current disregard towards women, because in many cases, women are neglected due to the fact that they bring no economic benefits to the household. Also, the media could play a big part in decreasing people’s preference for boys only. Utilizing the news or the production of a movie about the female infanticide phenomenon could have a big impact on how people think. ‘It’s a Girl’, a documentary about gendercide, is planned for release this year and the Indian government should actively screen this film in order to inform the people of the atrocities happening in their very own country.
Regarding excessive abortions, the Indian government is restraining doctors from identifying the sex of a fetus. However, the profit that doctors are able to earn by performing abortions is much more than the fine that doctors pay upon getting caught, which makes the restraint ineffective. In order to have an influence on doctors, the fine should be raised to an extent that doctors will have trouble keeping their business running after paying the fee. For those who are unable to come up with the money, they should indefinitely be put to jail.
On October 31st of 2011, a child rights organization, Plan India, celebrated the birth of a girl in Uttar Pradesh as the world’s 7 billionth person. The organization intended to draw attention to the serious issue of India’s child gender imbalance. According to a press release by Plan India, the baby, along with other six newborn girls from the same community, will be sponsored and well supported for the next seven years of their lives. More events such as this should be planned in order to alert the international society of female infanticide.
|▲ Logo of Plan India
There is no doubt that female infanticide is a phenomenon that is based on an out-of-date line of thought. Continuing this inhumane act will bring serious social consequences in the future, and the side effects are already starting to show. Active measures need to be put forth to put an end to this senseless situation. < 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >