By Marylou Barry

20 million girls and women are missing from Planet Earth.

They have not been kidnapped by space aliens. They did not forget to come home from the mall in time for dinner. They were not victims of a serial killer, or a terrorist, or some government’s organized genocide against women.

Instead, according to a study published in the British medical journal The Lancet, they were picked off individually, silently, over a generation, by their own parents and doctors, for no crime other than being conceived female.

Half the missing girls were killed pre-birth in India, a populous but civilized democracy with no Chinese-style one-child policy – or even the meddlesome infrastructure that would be necessary to carry one out. Their parents were largely literate members of the middle or middle-working class, with longstanding, traditional beliefs opposing violence in any form.

Yet, as the India-based Web site Zee News has reported, sex-selective abortions in India have escalated to the point of tipping the nation’s demographics. This has been going on for 20 years now, studies reveal, and India’s chickens are finally coming home to roost. It is not a pretty sight.

According to the article, India’s child sex ratio from birth through six years has fallen from 945 girls per 1,000 boys in 1991 to 927 girls per 1,000 boys in 2001. Statistics from other sources look even more dismal.

  • Half a million baby girls are aborted in India every year for sex selection purposes alone.
  • In the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, and Gujarat, fewer than 800 girls are born for every 1,000 boys.
  • Northern Punjab has just 798 girls to every 1,000 boys under the age of six.
  • In Badhochhi Kalan that ratio falls to 651 to 1,000.
  • In another village, India’s worst, the ratio is 440 to 1,000. One midwife has stated that she delivers only one girl baby for every five boys.

“’Villagers do not talk openly about why the number of girls is so low here,’” columnist Jill Stanek quotes a 2006 Chicago Tribune article about the place, “’how couples use ultrasound tests illegally and then abort female fetuses. But everyone knows the reason…’”

“All kinds of famines, epidemics and wars are nothing compared to this,” laments Dr. Punit Bedi, a New Delhi gynecologist. “In some parts of India, one in every five girls is being eliminated at the fetal stage. It is a genocidal situation.”

What has caused this wholesale slaughter in a country religiously opposed to abortion, where it was outlawed until 1971? And what can the people of India do to put the genie back in the bottle?

One contributing factor, of course, is modern technology and the availability of ultrasound equipment. The General Electric Corporation, certainly to its credit, has spoken out against this abuse and now requests that any Indian company purchasing a GE machine sign a waiver indicating that it will not be used for this purpose. However, used machines are readily available at affordable prices and even can be ordered from online auction sites.

Another problem is difficulty in enforcing the law. Although abortion for other reasons is still legal up to 20 weeks, sex-selective abortion has been illegal in India since 1996. Enforcement, however, is another matter. In Punjab, only one doctor has been convicted recently of sex-selective abortion. The extent of his “punishment” was a 5-year license suspension and a $10 fine.

“It’s a very low-risk, high-profile business,” Dr. Bedi says. “Not only do the doctors make a lot of money, they are absolutely sure they will not be caught.”

One more unfortunate dynamic Indian girls have to deal with is the cultural preference for sons over daughters. In a nation with no social security system, sons are relied on to provide for their parents in old age, and daughters, who probably will not have the same earning capacity, are viewed as liabilities. Although banned since the 1960s, the Indian dowry system is reportedly still alive and well, the law against it enforced as poorly as the one against sex-selective abortion. As before, some marriages still lead to the extortion of the wife’s family by the husband’s, and sometimes even the murder of the wife if demands for money are not met.

Meanwhile in China, another nation that has long practiced sex-selective abortion, the chickens have come home too, and 40 million young bachelors are now wondering where they are going to find wives.

What could all these parents have been thinking, one has to wonder. Did they not envision that the “personal decisions” they made individually would cumulatively bring devastation, not just to the children that died, but even to the ones who lived? If not, why not?

Perhaps the solution to this dilemma was suggested way back in 1994 by another Indian physician, Sabapathy Siva, in a letter to the editor of Hinduism Today.

“What happened to our time-honored dharma (natural law of holy living) and duty to our children?” Dr. Siva asked in the letter. “Illiteracy, poverty and the dowry system have corrupted the society to the level of barbarianism.

“The man blames the woman for bearing a female child while he himself is (biologically) responsible for determining the sex of the baby. This fact ought to be taught first to the people.

“Next comes the public education regarding the dowry system. It is time that the women are bought with love and respect instead of money … We have to set an example and bring back the value of human life irrespective of the sexes.”


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