Female Infanticide Case Study

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Female infanticide: Newborn girl found buried alive in India

A new born girl whom Indian police officers found buried alive in a forest in India has died from injuries she suffered. Police suspect a case of female infanticide common in India and some other Asian countries.
The baby, only a day old, was found last week, wrapped in a cloth and half-buried in the soil in the Mandleshwar forest outside the city of Indore in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, according to the Daily Mail. The baby, bleeding heavily from the nose and mouth, was taken to a nearby government hospital where doctors placed her in an incubator and fought to save her life. But, tragically, she died the following day. Police believe the baby is yet another victim of female foeticide or infanticide common in India. Female infanticide is the tragic result of poverty and of cultural attitudes in which families prefer baby boys to girls because boys carry on the "family name," bring wealth to the family, while girls are viewed as economic burdens. According to a police officer B. Yadav, of the Indore Police, her family very likely left her to die because she was not wanted. The officer said: "We believe family or a close relative had left the baby girl to die. We are checking hospital records and recent births and we’re investigating the case but so far we have no leads. As it stands the apparent motive is female foeticide and we have registered the case." The Daily Mail reports the baby was found on June 29th by two men, Radheshyam Kevat and Jagdish Mangilal. The men were working in the vicinity when they heard the cries of the child. Jagdish Mangilal, 32, a tree planter, said: "We heard howling and we thought it was some animal but then we realized it sounded like a baby so we went to check... We were so shocked to see a baby moving, it was pretty devastating and we quickly informed the police. It’s amazing the baby survived as the area is crawling with wild hungry animals." The practice of female infanticide is so widespread in India that it is considered a national crisis, as indicated by official statistics which show that there are only about 750 females to 1000 males in the country. According to the Hindu, girl child numbers have declined in India relative to male children since 2001, leading to a very skewed child-sex ratio. The Hindu reports that official statistics show that nearly three million girls were "missing" in India in 2011. A study "Children In India 2012- A statistical Appraisal," conducted by the Central Statistical Organization, said: "During 2001- 2011, the share of children to total population has declined and the decline was sharper for female children than male children in the age group 0—6 years..." Female child population in the age group 0-6 was 78.83 million in 2001 and declined to 75,85 million in 2011. It is estimated that about 10 million girls have been killed in India since 1986, either before they were born or immediately after. The medical journal Lancet stated last year that 500,000 girls were being lost in India every year through sex-selective abortions. AFP reported last year the story of a girl Padma Kanwar Bhatti, the only girl in her class of 22 boys. Padma, 15, lives with her parents and two elder brothers in Devda a village of 2,500 people in the Rajasthan state district of Jaisalmer, one the areas of the country with the worst female to male sex ratios in India. The poor girl said: "There is no other girl in my class and there are very few girls in our village." When asked why, she stared down at her social science text book and said: “Girls die." At 15, she is old enough to understand the truth about female infanticide in her conservative social environment. According to AFP, female infanticide usually takes place within 24 hours of a baby's birth with the crime being committed, ironically, by the mother or midwife. Rajan Singhi, a Devda farmer, said: "I have heard that people administer opium or thrust a small but heavy sack filled with sand or mustard seeds on the baby’s face. Many mothers do not breast feed their daughter, starving the child to death." One of the reasons why girls tend to be viewed as economic burdens in India is the practice of bride dowry where the family of the bride pays a large sum of money to the family of the groom. According Umashankar Tyagi, a social historian in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, "the expense of dowries, illiteracy, poverty are the new justification for infanticide." Although the practice of bride dowry has been outlawed officially, it persists, especially in the rural areas of the country. The expense of dowry means that families have to start saving once their daughter is born. Bimla Devi Bhatti, a local mother of two daughters, said: "We have to give gold, silver, cash, vessels, beds, television sets, air coolers, clothes to the groom’s family and also arrange for a three-day village feast during a daughter’s wedding. We have to start saving for the dowry since the day a daughter is born. I will have to sell my land to get them married." The practice of female infanticide has been enhanced by the availability of ultrasound methods for determining the sex of unborn babies. The tragic consequence of this otherwise useful technological application is that 80 percent of districts in India have reported a skewed ratio of females to male since 1991. Ironically, the practice of bride dowry which encourages female infanticide has rebounded on society by creating a new human trafficking industry involving buying and selling of women as brides in areas where there is an acute shortage.

A two-year-old girl wrapped in bandages, her face bruised black and blue as several tubes connected her body to the life support machine at the AIIMS Trauma Care in New Delhi. Four years ago, these pictures of Baby Falak stirred the collective consciousness of the country. Abandoned by her mother, passed on from stranger to stranger until she was brought to the hospital battered with injuries including bite marks on her body, Baby Falak’s story and her tragic death in March 2012 was mourned by a nation outraged by the abuse of a girl child.    

But Baby Falak was far from being the last victim. Weeks later, three-month-old Baby Neha Afreen died of a cardiac arrest at a government hospital in Bengaluru. Brutalised by her father, who wanted a boy, she had been admitted with a severe head injuries, dislocated neck and bite and burn marks on her body. Shock and anger followed across the country.

Four years on, female infanticide is real and alive in India. On Tuesday, three-month-old Jyothilakshmi was flung against the wall of her house in Kavarapet near Chennai by her father, reported Times of India. Damodaran, a daily wage worker had wanted his wife to hand over the baby to an orphanage as she was the third daughter. Enraged that his wife had to refused to give up the baby, Damodaran grabbed her by the head and flung her against the wall. Baby Jyothilakshmi died within minutes.  Her crime, like Baby Falak’s, Baby Neha Afreen’s and many other, was that she was born a girl.

But these horrifying incidents that are reported are no longer from villages, far removed from public’s imagination. Families are killing their daughters across metropolises in India. Data from the 2011 Census provides a grim picture of the missing girl child in urban India.  Child sex ratio for the age 0-6 stood at 918 girls per 1000 boys in India, down from 927 in 2001.   According to Scroll, the numbers are the lowest in 50 years. A closer look at the data shows that the shameful numbers, in fact, come from urban India, where child sex ratio is 905 girls per 1000 while rural India is 923 per 1000.

Gita Aravumudan, journalist and author of “Disappearing Daughters” points out that female infanticide and sex selective abortions are responsible for the falling child sex ratio. “It is one form of patriarchy. The basic problem is that Indian families want sons and they feel having a son is very important,” she notes. The foundation for her 2007 book, she says, was a story she covered at Usilampatti in Madurai in the 1990s, where the killing of baby girls was openly practiced. A poor community of landless labourers used gruesome methods to murder their daughters including placing a grain of husk into the mouth, slitting the new-born’s throat. But once the arrests started, people started thinking of innovative ways to kill their girl babies without being found out.

Infanticide, Gita says, has taken on silent forms in the cities. In Salem, she reported cases where a new-born baby girl would be swaddled in a wet cloth so that she would develop a cold. “The family would get a doctor’s prescription and not bother to give the baby the medicine. The baby would eventually die of pneumonia,” she says. The prescription, she remarks, is the evidence the family needed to evade suspicion.  Negligence of the female infant is another aspect - starving baby girls and refusing treatment are some of the other methods employed.   

Gita says the villages she had visited more than a decade ago, no longer practice infanticide. To eradicate the practice, states incentivise having a girl child. In Tamil Nadu, the state deposits an amount of Rs 50,000 in the name of the girl child with the money including interest released when the child turns 18.  Besides this, several governments also incentivise education and provide marriage assistance to “protect the girl child”.

Among the cities, Census 2011 shows that Delhi and Chandigarh are among the highest offenders when it comes to skewed child sex ratio.  A recent AIIMS study found that between 1996-2012, 238 foetuses and new-borns were abandoned in South Delhi, a swanky and posh neighbourhood in the national capital.  Among the live born cases, 77% of the deaths were attributed to murder. Gita argues, “What incentives can you give a South Delhi family that has two Mercedes Benz cars?”  

Gita argues that sex selective abortions are high in the cities, especially among the educated and well-off, who have access to clinics that may offer sex determination at exorbitant rates. But it’s not just urban Indians, the diaspora is also practicing female foeticide, as shown by recent studies in Canada. “We carry our prejudice wherever we go,” she laments, “It’s so entrenched in our psyche. That’s what we have to address.   

Rattling off statistics Gita notes, “If the first child is a girl, there is some hope of survival. If the second child is also a girl, she is mostly done away with. The third girl child has no chance of survival.”  Baby Falak and Baby Jyothilakshmi paid the price for being born the third daughter.

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