Sabu George, a Delhi-based researcher, has spent the past quarter-century exposing what he calls “the worst kind of violence” in Indian history—the elimination of millions of unborn girls. He regards it as nothing less than genocide and describes the first few months in the womb as “the riskiest part of a woman’s life cycle in India.”
For the last two decades, reports have consistently illustrated the extent of the problem. After investigators uncovered 400 pieces of bone believed to be of female fetuses, reporters gave graphic details: “Last September,” wrote Raekha Prasad and Randeep Ramesh in The Guardian, “remains of dozens of babies were exhumed from a pit outside an abortion clinic in Punjab. To dispose of the evidence, acid was used to melt the flesh and then the bones were hammered to smithereens.”
Although it’s easy to relegate this story to the remote regions of the developing world, India is representative of a global problem of epic proportion. In the year of the #MeToo movement, the practice of female feticide offers us a powerful depiction of the institutionalization of violence against women. Sex-selective abortions perpetrate violence against the most vulnerable, unseen victims. What emerges is an alarming picture of mass termination: prenatal offspring, aborted for no other reason than they happen to be female.
According to a study by The Lancet, the toll in India averages half a million fetuses each year, with some regions of India faring particularly badly. Although accurate figures are very difficult to compile, estimates suggest that “among the stock of women that could potentially be alive in India today, over 25 million are ‘missing.’” Not all of this loss is the result of abortion. Female babies who do not fall victim to prenatal selection and elimination are not guaranteed survival after birth. The evidence shows overwhelminglythat infanticide, the age-old method of eradicating girls, is still very common.
Female gendercide is perhaps the clearest statement of the low value and disposability of girls and women. According to J. Godwin Prem Singh, author of Milennium Development Goals, “the elimination of girl children, either through sex-selective abortion or infanticide, goes largely uncensored, undetected, unpunished and unmourned.” These procedures are now woven into the fabric of much of Indian culture, sitting menacingly alongside sexual violence, domestic abuse, and rape and anticipating the brutalities experienced by women in other contexts.
Selective abortion used to be seen as a problem of poverty—where parents of large families could not afford more children and aborted the less economically productive offspring—but evidence now indicates that it’s as much a problem of affluence. Educated parents plan their families and pay fees to clinics, radiologists, and doctors to identify the sex of their child. Cheap, portable ultrasound technology is widely available, and affluent in-laws pressure their daughters-in-law to give birth to sons. One survey, in fact, revealed that female feticide was highest among women with university degrees. Although some international development experts maintain that wealth and education will alleviate the social ills against women, in India, affluence has not challenged feticide. It has simply made it easier.
Development and globalization have increased personal wealth and decreased the average family size, but they have not erased traditional patriarchal values. Wealthier and better-educated Indians still want sons. This entrenched cultural preference is what drives sex-selective abortion in India: Boys are seen as of greater social and economic value to their birth families, while daughters, by contrast, become subject to their husbands’ families. Girls’ parents also supply the dowry. In India today, an educated, successful bridegroom comes at a high price, and that dowry cost might leave the girl’s family in debt for the rest of their lives.
Violence against women in the womb begets another kind of violence. As a result of India’s missing girls, a large cohort of men cannot marry, and as brides become scarce, the trafficking of women and girls increases. A Reuters report in 2017 identified an annual 25 percent rise in trafficked women and children in India. Most trafficked victims end up in domestic servitude, sex slavery, and enforced marriage. Sexual harassment is also common. National data published this year in India announced a spike in incidents of murder, abduction, rape, and dowry deaths. (India’s National Crime Records Bureau reported in 2017 that a young woman is killed every hour in India after family failure to meet ongoing dowry demands from her in-laws and husband.)
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Source: Christianity Today