By Husna Anjum
With the recent case of a 7 year old girl buried alive in Uttar Pradesh, female infanticide is seen to be an ongoing problem in South Asia. Occurring in August, the girl was strangled before being buried in a shallow grave. She was eventually rescued by a nearby villager who found her miraculously still alive. This sadly is just another case in a long line of heinous murders of baby girls.
Female infanticide is the deliberate killing of baby girls and is particularly prominent in countries such as India and China. But despite modern times it is still widely practised, with some Indian provinces inhabiting only 800 females to every 1,000 males.
But before tackling the problem, the identification of the reasons for these killings is needed. Financial reasons seem to be the main motive with issues such as dowry. Indians traditionally still pay dowries for marriages, which is money and valuable goods paid to the groom’s family. As a result girls are killed to avoid parting with such a large sum of money. There is also an element of gender bias where men are seen as more employable and higher earners therefore more economically useful to the family. Gender also plays a part in the tradition of caring for parents in their old age. Girls normally marry and move into their husband’s home, therefore being unable to look after parents. Boys however can bring their wives into the home and provide extra resources to look after parents. As a result boys are seen as more beneficial to the family therefore less likely to be killed.
A worrying gender imbalance is then created in South Asian countries where leading experts such as Stephan Klasen, the chair of development economics at the University of Goettingen in Germany claimed there may be “millions” of missing girls in these countries.
Advances in modern technology such as self-selective abortions and ultrasound techniques means the gender of babies can be determined early on and girls subsequently aborted.
Determining whether the practise is wider in poverty stricken areas is not a simple issue. Girls born into disadvantaged parts of India are largely deprived of education, healthcare and economic opportunities. However, middle class areas are no strangers to this gender discrimination either. Mira Shiva, head of the Voluntary Health Association of India and a women’s rights activist confirmed “It is definitely not [only] poverty-driven. If you are having only two children, society and economics tell you, you want to have boys, and so you just keep killing the girls.”
So can female infanticide every truly be stopped? Measures have been put into place where education and economic opportunities are increased for the Indian population. Holistic approaches have been introduced such as the Sensitisation and awareness program who provide gender and development training for families, the local authority and schools. Pre marriage counselling is offered to discourage dowry practises and help diminish female infanticide and domestic violence.
These are small steps into a better future where baby girls are allowed the right to live.