culture shockers: Abort your daughter now, save on a dowery later – A look at gendercide in China and India

photo courtesy of smoothherald.com

photo courtesy of smoothherald.com

What would you do if your husband forced you to get rid of your unborn child?

Like Dr. Mitu Khurana, an Indian woman featured on our Bell Bajao! blog who faced enormous pressure from her husband and extended family to abort her twin daughters.  She held strong and ultimately remained determined to bring justice to the people that tried to force her into abortion.

In reading more about this, we learned that China’s current ratio of boys to girls is 123 boys per 100 girls, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). And although India does not report figures on sex-ratios at birth, the most accurate estimations report a similar ratio to that of China.

This is the result of “Gendercide,” a term that dates back to Mary Anne Warren’s 1985 book about the “implications of sex selection.” As an analogy to genocide, gendercide is defined as “the deliberate extermination of persons of a particular sex (or gender).” According to The Economist‘s recent feature, “Gendercide: What happened to 100 million baby girls?” several factors have contributed to this dangerous trend.

China introduced its controversial one-child law in 1979. Families, now only allowed one child, tend to be adamant that he is a boy. With access to prenatal ultrasounds, they are able to abort each female fetus until they eventually produce a son.  However, the one-child policy is not the whole story because China is not the only country with a skewed ratio. Other countries, such as India, who do not live under the one-child law still experience “the modern desire for smaller families,” which ultimately creates similar results.  Often families need sons in order to perform hard physical labor to bring money home to support the family. Or they prefer a son so that he can pass on the family name. Furthermore, daughters often come with burdens, such as dowry payments.

Technology has played a huge role in enabling the widespread elimination of baby girls. Although sex-selective abortion technically became illegal in India and China in the nineties, the practice still runs rampant. ”Sex determination tests,” otherwise known as prenatal ultrasound scans, have made it possible for relatively well-off families in urban areas to find out the sex of their baby in time to have an abortion. Since these scans often cost only $12, many families can afford it.  And in the words of doctors in India advertising this procedure, one can, “Pay 5,000 ruppees ($110) today and save 50,000 ruppees tomorrow” (the amount that would be saved is on the cost of a potential daughter’s dowery). However, in rural areas without access to this service, new mothers and fathers of baby girls often kill their daughters upon birth, or value them so minimally that the child dies within the first several years of life due to neglect.

What are the consequences of such a distorted sex ratio?

According to the CASS, if the Chinese keep killing of their baby girls, in ten years China will have 30-40 million more men than women. In other words, one in five young men, sometimes referred to as guanggun or “bare branches,” would be brideless because of the lack of available young women.

And the consequences of all these bare branches? Asian culture views marriage and children as necessary milestones for all men — single men are therefore treated as outcasts who are likely to be involved in crime, violence, and dishonorable sexual acts. Indeed, the rate of female trafficking, sexual violence, and bride abductions have increased and will continue to do so if this trend of sexual selection continues. Suicide rates have also increased among females, most likely because of the pain of the guilt of having killed or aborted their baby girls.

What do we do?

Luckily this issue is beginning to garner widespread international attention from prominent organizations and publications such as The Economist. If this trend of raising awareness continues, we can be hopeful that action will be taken against the promoters and enablers of gendercide.

Most importantly, we must educate women. We can only hope that if she has more information, she can follow in the footsteps of Dr. Mitu Khurana, as discussed above from Bell Bajao’s blog.  Having the knowledge about women’s rights which are in fact human rights, a mother can fight to protect the life of her child, whether male or female.

March 12, 2010 by Annie
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