Posted by: Staff | 03.04.2010

Gendercide: A Tragedy That Can Be Ended

ADINA JICK ’10

“The greatest challenge is the deeply rooted culture in countries that oppress women and girls… Accepted customs need to be realized as unacceptable.”
~The Editorial Board of the Christian Science Monitor

 

In the last twenty years, India has lost ten million girls and China has lost fifty million girls to gendercide, the killing of female fetuses, infants, and children (Wheeler, Beech). These girls were never given the chance to live their dreams, to even formulate a thought of dreams. Did we lose the first female head of the UN? The woman who would change the face of Chinese politics? Or did we simply lose someone’s future mother? We will never know these women because they were lost to the unfair and cruel hand of female infanticide. There should be a higher ratio of girls to boys, but because of female infanticide this ratio disproportionately favors boys. In 2001, there were 798 girls per every 1000 boys in parts of Punjab, India (Wheeler). Another study shows 300 women to every 1000 boys (Wheeler). Where are these girls going? They are being killed for a reason completely out of their control: their gender. China and India have the highest rates of gender selective abortion and female infanticide because of cultural and social bias against women. This bias has drastic consequences that will continue to worsen unless the Indian and Chinese governments intervene more proactively to stop social practices that are inhumane and violate basic human rights.

 The social and cultural favoritism to boys that has existed in China and India for decades has led to the death of millions of girls. In India, parents have always preferred sons because they maintain the family line, care for their parents, earn money, hold family land, and light parent’s funeral fire. It has become a tragedy when a daughter is born (Beech). Daughters require large sums of money for their dowries, piercings, and wedding. An average civil servant in India makes 100,000 rupees a year while wedding and dowry expenses can add up to approximately a million rupees (Jones). Daughters eventually leave their parents for their husband’s family (Beech). Uma Girish of the Christian Science Monitors writes that, “Factors like dowry, imbalance in the employment sector whereby the male is seen as bread winner, and societal pressure to abort female fetuses conspire to increase the anti-girl bias” (Girish). The same is true in China. According to Hannah Beech, a Time magazine reporter, “In China’s poorest villages, fathers don’t even count their daughters when asked how many children they have” (Beech).   In India, baby girls are called “maggots in the rice” (Jones).

 Female infanticide, the practice of killing baby girls, has a long history and many methods in India and China. In Tamil Nadu, India, female infanticide is widely practiced and has been for decades. In China, female infanticide was exacerbated by the one-child policy started in 1979, which made old prejudices against females come back. While the communists sought to free women of these prejudices by putting them in fields and factories and giving them the right to inherit property, the bias continues. The most indirect method of female infanticide is the neglect of girls. For example, boys are fed milk and eggs and girls are fed only their leftovers, boys get medical care while girls do not. More direct methods of female infanticide include the following: feeding baby girls fertilizer or uncooked rice with hulls that puncture their windpipes, smothering babies with wet towels, strangling, starving, poisoning, or drowning them. Older women, often grandmothers, perform the majority of female infanticide. One woman in India justified her actions by saying, “instead of her suffering the way I do, I thought it was better to get rid of her” (Jones). The unhappiness of women’s lives in India is clear by their actions against their own children.

 Gender selective abortion, the act of ending a pregnancy after the sex of the fetus is revealed, was sparked by medical advancements like amniocentesis and ultrasounds in the mid 1980s (Sex Selective). According to one study, “sex selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess males” (Sex Selective). The ability to determine a baby’s sex before birth has created an entirely new source of revenue for some doctors. In India, abortion has become an incredibly lucrative business because of parents’ preference for boys and therefore more abortions are being performed illegally. Even though the law in India states that only qualified facilities can perform abortions, the reality is that these legal facilities only perform 15% of abortions. The illegal abortion industry makes roughly $250 million per year. While abortions used to be accessible only to the wealthy, this discrepancy is becoming less true. There is a phrase in India concerning the price of abortions: “Pay 500 rupees and save 50,000 rupees later” (Girish). India and China share a preference for boys but since China’s one child policy makes it impossible to have another child after a girl is born, parents are more likely to abort a girl fetus. It is currently illegal to determine a child’s gender for non-medical reasons, but it is done anyway. While it is unfortunate that these medical advancements have set women back, there needs to be some actions taken in order to fix the gender imbalance.

Both the Chinese and Indian governments have taken this disdain for daughters seriously and have made attempts to try to shift the opinion towards girls, without much success. Religious and social customs have proven much more powerful than the government’s laws (Girish).  While the governments have passed laws in order to stop gendercide, they have not followed through with the punishments. The punishment for female infanticide in India is death by hanging, but this is not enforced (Jones). The Indian government banned dowries in 1961, but they are still practiced (Wheeler). In addition to creating laws to stop gendercide, the Indian government has provided cash incentives for raising daughters and pro-girl campaigns, but has not gone far enough to stop the unfair killing (Wheeler). The Chinese and Indian governments are unlikely to make headway with their attempts because of the strength of the cultural bias.

 Gendercide has had dramatic consequences in India and China. Males also suffer from the gender imbalance. Since the ratio of women to men is so imbalanced, Chinese men in some rural areas have begun marrying their first cousins, sharing wives with their brothers, or marrying people with mental or physical disabilities (Beech). There are and will continue to be more bachelors and therefore more men will join monasteries and the military (Beech). There is also a fear that the discrepancy in the ratio of men to women will increase crime, prostitution, and drug use as single men roam the countryside (Beech). Therse Hesketh of a British medical journal writes, “if you’ve got highly sexed young men, there is a concern that they will all get together, and with high levels of testosterone, there may be a real risk, that they will go out and commit crimes” (Sex Selective). It is in the best interest of both China and India to save their girls if they want to continue to grow economically since these girls will grow into women who can contribute to their burgeoning economies. The gender imbalance has larger consequences than just the injustice to women.

 Ideally, the solution would be to get rid of the anti-girl bias.  However, change will be difficult and slow, even in China with its efficient and centralized government. One step in stopping gendercide in China is allowing couples to have a second child. Both countries should ban amniocentesis and ultrasounds in order to preserve lives. Neither fetuses nor their mothers will be at risk without these tests. Puneet Bedi, a specialist in fetal medicine says, “no pregnant woman would suffer if the ultrasound test were banned right now, it is used to save 1 out of 28,000 fetuses and kill 20 out of every 100 because [it reveals that the baby] is the wrong gender” (Girish). While attempts are being made to fix the gender imbalance, both punishments and incentives must be taken to the next level if they have any chance of success.

Governments should make the punishment and enforcement for gendercide so extreme that the punishment is more unappealing than having a daughter. For example, while dowries are illegal in India, there is no enforcement of the law.  If the fine for a dowry was three times greater than the dowry itself, and the government enforced these fines, dowries would disappear. Likewise, if a comparable fine for female infanticide and sex-selective abortion were enforced, these unjust acts would end. However, gendercide is hard to prove, especially in a country where illegal abortions are ubiquitous and most babies are not born in hospitals where births are reported. Furthermore, India does not have a centralized government and is not very efficient at enforcing its laws. Therefore, governments must simultaneously continue their pro-girl campaigns and incentives for having daughters. The Chinese and Indian governments must commit significant funds to stopping the progression of the gender imbalance, which as shown above, will have devastating consequences on their countries if left unresolved. It will take decades for the general opinion, especially in rural areas, to change and broadening incentives is a critical part of the solution.

The solution to the gender imbalance in India and China does not solely lie with the governments of those countries; the western world must get involved in order to put an end to these unjust acts. Although, westerners are often accused of meddling in issues that do not directly affect them, gendercide has become the “biggest single holocaust in human history” according to reporter Joseph Farah (Jones).  While culturally, socially, and religiously the anti-girl bias is inherent in these societies, the western world must intervene when actions clearly violate human rights. As the Christian Science Monitor says, “As it seeks to promote women’s rights, the US faces a paradox. The push could backfire if it comes off as a lecture or is perceived as another modern Western idea that will cause societal upheaval.” (The Potential) As citizens of the world, westerners must involve themselves in order to stop the gender imbalance that will eventually destroy India and China.

Works Cited

 

Beech, Hannah. “In Rural China, It’s a Family Affair.” Time 27 May 2002. Time.com. 2010. Web. 5 Feb. 2010. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,250060,00.html&gt;.

 

Burton, Sandra. “Condolences, It’s a Girl.” Time 8 Nov. 1990. Time.com. 2010. Web. 5 Feb. 2010. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,971583,00.html&gt;.

 

Girish, Uma. “For India’s Daughters, A Dark Birth Day.” The Christian Science Monitor. CSMonitor.com, 9 Feb. 2005. Web. 05 Feb. 2010. <http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0209/p11s01-wosc.html&gt;.

 

Jones, Adam. “Gendercide Watch: Female Infanticide.” Gendercide Watch. Gendercide.org, 2000. Web. 05 Feb. 2010. <http://www.gendercide.org/case_infanticide.html&gt;.

“The potential in Hillary Clinton’s global campaign for women.” The Christian Science Monitor. CSMonitor.com, 11 Sept. 2009. Web. 05 Feb. 2010. <http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2009/0911/p12s01-comv.html&gt;.

“Sex-Selective Abortions in China Have Produced 32 Million Extra Boys.” Discover Magazine. Discovermagazine.com, 2009. Web. 05 Feb. 2010. <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/04/13/sex-selective-abortions-in-china-have-produced-32-million-extra-boys/&gt;.

Stephey, M. J. “Why Sexism Kills.” Time 11 Nov. 2009. Time.com, 11 Nov. 2009. Web. 4 Feb. 2010. <http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1937336,00.html&gt;.

Wheeler, Madeline. “Gender-selective abortion in India is on the rise /.” The Christian

Science Monitor. CSMonitor.com, 14 Oct. 2009. Web. 05 Feb. 2010.

<http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2009/1014/p09s01-coop.html&gt;.

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