What’s Killing India’s Little Girls?
by Rita Banerji
The following is an edited excerpt from an article by Rita Banerji first published in The Women’s News Network. [To read the original article Click Here ]
A report released in 2012 by the UN-DESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) on global infant and child mortality rates, made a shocking revelation. It showed that India has an abnormally high rate of mortality for female children between the ages of 1 to 5 years — a rate that was higher than any of the other 150 countries survey, many of which for e.g. those in Africa, were far poorer than India!
The report showed that a girl child in India, who is between the ages 1 to 5-years-old, is 75% more likely to die than a boy in the same age category. For every 56 boys that die in this age group, there are 100 girls who die. However statistically this should be the reverse. Girls in this age group normally have a much better natural survival rate because they have a biological advantage. So for the rest of the world, the pattern of mortality in this age group is 116 boys for every 100 girls.
What is causing this alarming death toll of India’s little girls?
A report published in 2011 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, from a study conducted jointly by the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Harvard School of Public Health, established that girls under 5 years in India were dying at an abnormally high rate because of the prevalence of domestic violence in their homes that were targeting females. Not male children!
In these homes, it was not just women who were being killed by the infliction of lethal violence, but the violence was being targeted at girl children as well. Data of live births recorded in India was gathered from 1985 to 2005 and it was found that of the girls whose birth had been registered in India in this time period, 1.2 million had been killed as infants and another 1.8 million of those girls had been killed before they turned 6 years old!!! So, of the girls whose birth was registered in these 20 years, 3 million had been killed before they turned 6 years old.
The study further establishes that girl children in India are at a much higher risk than boys of dying from domestic violence. While girl children between 1 and 6 years have a 21 percent higher chance than boys of dying before their 5th birthday, infant girls who are one year younger are at a 50 percent higher risk of dying than boys the same age.
The head of this study Dr. Jay Silverman said, “Being born a girl into a family in India in which your mother is abused makes it significantly less likely that you will survive early childhood. Shockingly this violence does not pose a threat to your life if you are lucky enough to be born a boy.”
Another practice killing India’s little girls is deliberate and abusive neglect. A 2007 UNICEF report established that girls under 5 years of age in India had a 40 percent higher mortality rates than boys the same age. Families will often deliberately starve daughters, neglecting to feed them completely or feeding them the left-overs if there are any after the men and boys are done eating. If a girl child falls ill the family often will not spend spend money on her medical care preferring to let her die.
Female infanticide has a long history in India and chillingly each region has had its own established, traditional way of killing infant girls, methods that include drowning the baby in a bucket of milk, or feeding her salt, or burying her alive in an earthen pot. In middle and upper class families however, the methods are more devious such as staging of accidents or inducing ‘natural’ illnesses to avoid police detection.
In a study by the Registrar General of India published in 2010 in the medical journal “The Lancet,” a curious factor came to light. Girls in India from the age of 1 month to 5 years old were dying of pneumonia and diarrhea at a rate that is 4-5 times higher than boys the same age.
But why were the girls dying from these two specific maladies?
The answer, which is shocking, is revealed in an observation made by author Gita Aravamudan, in her book Disappearing Daughters (2007). While visiting areas where female infanticide is practiced in India, she observed that the conventional methods of killing female babies can usually be detected and a police investigation can be launched. “[To avoid arrest] families adopt more torturous methods of killing [infant girls]… Inducing pneumonia was the modern method. The infant was wrapped in a wet towel or dipped in cold water as soon as it was born or when it came back home from hospital. If, after a couple of hours, it was still alive it was taken to a doctor who would diagnose pneumonia and prescribe medicine, which the parents promptly threw away. When the child finally died, the parents had a medical certificate to prove pneumonia. Sometimes the infant was fed a drop of alcohol to create diarrhea: another ‘certifiable disease.’”
As founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign, which is working to raise global awareness about India’s ongoing female genocide/ gendercide, I am only too aware of these factors. Two years ago, the campaign got involved in the case of a little girl, called Karishma, whose family did not want a girl, and made numerous attempts to kill her. Read Karishma’s story here.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide. Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies,‘ is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide. Her website is www.ritabanerji.com She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHERS
The photos in this post are by member photographers of The 50 Million Missing Campaign. There are 2400 photographers from around the world who support The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s photo pool on flickr. To see more of the works by each of the photographers here click on the photos and connect to their individual sites.