To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
Thousands of unborn girls are killed in their mothers’ wombs daily in India — despite a ban on sex determination tests and sex-selective abortions.
BY ANTO AKKARAREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
BANGALORE, India — Thirty-two-year-old Pooja Salotia, wife
of a millionaire industrialist in Gujarat state in western India, has become a
That was after she got her husband, Chirag, and nine other
members of his family arrested in July for abetting female feticide.
Pooja’s plight is not shocking to many in India. Thousands
of unborn girls are killed in their mothers’ wombs daily in India — despite a
ban on sex determination tests and sex-selective abortions.
As soon as Pooja got pregnant, the family celebrated by
throwing a big party. But her joy was short-lived when she was taken to a
fertility clinic and the affluent family was shocked with the news that she was
carrying twin girls.
Chirag and his family members promptly forced his wife to
abort. But her ordeal did not end there. The husband kept pestering her to
sleep with his brothers to ensure that she conceive a male. Unable to put up
with the husband’s family going after her, Pooja took an unprecedented step —
walking to the police station to file a complaint against her husband and his
“Today, we have the
odd distinction of having lost 10 million girl children in the past 20 years,”
Renuka Choudhury, federal minister for Women and Child Development,
acknowledged at a seminar in New Delhi last December. “Who has killed these
girl children? Their own parents.”
Even UNICEF has acknowledged the gravity of the female feticide
situation, noting that 7,000 fewer girls are born in India every day than the
global average because of widespread gender prejudice leading to feticide.
Choudhury made headlines again in July when she declared
that the government soon would introduce legislation to mandate registration of
all pregnancies in a desperate bid to curb rampant female feticide.
But such threats from the government seem to have had little
impact on the female feticide scenario in India.
“We condemn this [female feticide]. We feel shocked that
there is scant respect for the sanctity of life,” Bishop John Baptist Thakur,
chairman of the women’s commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India,
said July 31.
Bishop Thakur was reacting to a flurry of shocking reports
that made headlines from different parts of the country. Several dumps of
female fetuses were found in late July. Police found around 30 skulls, which
were believed to belong to unborn females, on July 22 in a sealed pit in
Nayagarh in eastern Orissa state after local people alerted police.
A week earlier, the remains of seven female fetuses were
found in another well in the same town. Subsequent studies showed that of the
12 fertility clinics in the town, only one has been registered.
On July 26, villagers spotted a van dumping two dozen female
fetuses on the Krishnavati riverbed in northern Haryana state. Three days
later, the bodies of six female fetuses were found in a well in neighboring
Uttar Pradesh state.
On July 31, alert locals led police to another dump of 14
dead female unborns in the suburb of Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa state.
Though Indian law bans sex determination tests, many doctors
not only find out the sex of the unborn child but often abort several-month-old
female fetuses for exorbitant fees. This lucrative business explains why many
places in north India have only less than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys.
Amid the gloomy situation, bishop Thakur pointed out that
there was “a silver lining too.”
“On the positive side, there is growing awareness at least
among a section of the people. That is why these incidents are reaching the
media quickly,” added the bishop, who heads the Diocese of Muzaffarpur in
eastern Bihar state.
The bishop said he was glad to find roadside graffiti in
several places in Muzaffarpur condemning female feticide as a crime.
“There are hardly any Christians here [in Muzaffarpur]. It
is the work of NGOs [non-governmental organizations. The challenge now before
us is to strengthen those campaigning against female feticide,” added Bishop
Sister Lilly Francis Poovelil, executive secretary of the
Women’s Commission of Catholic Bishops Conference of India, said that the
rampant female feticide is “the product of the deep-rooted prejudice against the
girl child in Indian society.”
“Many mothers even dread the birth of a girl child due to
this prejudice,” pointed out Sister Lilly, who belongs to the Salesian
Missionaries of Mary Immaculate.
According to Hindu tradition, a father cannot attain moksha
(salvation) unless he had a son to perform his last rites. This religious
sanction rendering the girl child “unwanted” subsequently gave birth to the
dowry system, reducing her to an economic liability for the family.
Parents of daughters have to struggle all their life to earn
the dowry to marry them off. Non-governmental organizations estimate more than
25,000 dowry deaths in India a year — most of them young brides burned to
death. In-laws often claim they “caught fire while cooking.”
Many more thousands lead hellish existences, putting up with
physical and mental torture by their in-laws for their failure to meet the
dowry demands. It is this fear that prompts many parents to abort females.
Church to Address Issue
Cashing in on this fear, unscrupulous medical practitioners
used to carry blunt advertisements with billboards on the streets like, “Why
not spend 500 rupees now instead of spending 500,000 [in dowry] later.” Due to
government and media pressure, such advertisements have disappeared, but the business
seems to be flourishing, given the frequent discovery of female fetus dumps
across the country.
“The only way to change this mindset is through awareness
programs,” said Sister Lilly.
Though the Church has taken some steps to spread awareness,
Sister Lilly said the Indian Church is going to take up the female feticide
issue in a “most serious” manner, as the biennial general assembly of 180
bishops in India in February 2008 will have “Empowerment of Women — in Church
and Society” as its theme.
While a national preparatory meeting will be held in New
Delhi at the end of August to finalize the agenda of the week-long assembly of
Indian bishops, Sister Lilly said it will be followed up with 12 regional
consultations where women and others will spell out their expectations from the
Church for women’s empowerment.
“Female feticide is going to be one of the key issues,” she
said. “We hope to take some serious and concrete steps to counter the killer
mentality against the girl child from this [assembly of bishops].”
Anto Akkara writes from