Activists go undercover to expose India’s illegal sex-selective abortions

 

 

March 27, 2017 New Delhi (CNN)

A pregnant woman sat in a hospital consultation room in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. She wanted to know the sex of her baby, she told the doctor.

 

In many countries, this would be a routine process, all part of becoming a new parent. But in India — where thousands of female fetuses are aborted every year — revealing the sex of an unborn child has been illegal since 1994.

 

Nevertheless, the doctor offered to tell the woman the sex of her baby for a one-off payment of 12,500 rupees ($190). She agreed and paid for the service, documenting everything on a hidden spy camera.
Last week, a court in Malegaon convicted the doctor and his brother of running a sex-selection clinic and abortion racket. They face three years in jail and a fine, according to police.

 
The sting, which caught them was set up by Maharashtra-based activist Varsha Deshpande, founder of Lek Ladki Abhiyan, an organization dedicated to fighting sex-selective abortions. The woman was a pregnant volunteer recruited by Deshpande.

 
Since 2004, Deshpande said, they have carried out dozens of investigations, which have resulted in 20 convictions.

__________________________________

 

Getting worse

US-based NGO Invisible Girl Project estimates that five million to seven million sex-selective abortions are carried out in India every year.

 
In 2001, India’s census recorded a child sex ratio of around 93 girls to every 100 boys. By 2016, according to the World Economic Forum, the ratio was closer to 89.

 
“This gender gap has resulted in villages where men have no women to marry, because the women are non-existent,” said Invisible Girl Project CEO Jill McElya.

 
“So children are trafficked into villages to become brides, or young women are trafficked into brothels.” Deshpande said the problem has been getting worse in Maharashtra “for the last three years,” pointing to a failure to enforce the law.

 
While most activists rely on awareness raising and pressuring the government, Deshpande has always favored direct action. In the early days, before she received any donations or outside help, she used cheap Walkmans to record audio for evidence.

 
Concerned tipsters can now call a hotline to share information about a doctor offering sex-selection tests. Members of Deshpande’s team then go along with a pregnant volunteer to collect evidence on how the doctor or nurse is breaking the law.

 
Unless the government steps up enforcement of the law, Deshpande said she believes this is the only way to stop the abortions.

 
“There’s a deterrent effect,” she said.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare did not respond to a request for comment.

 
India first banned sex-selection in 1994. However, activists said that the law left many loopholes, and Deshpande worked with many others to bring about further reform in 2002, which made the legislation more stringent.

 
Almost 15 years later however, Deshpande, who sits on a national committee created by that legislation, said the “political will” to actually enforce the regulations does not exist.

 
The law requires practitioners using ultrasound technology to register with the government. It also prohibits companies from selling ultrasound machines to those not registered and requires local officials to educate the public against sex-selection.

 
“Until the judicial system works like it should and the courts uphold the law, there will be no true systemic change,” McElya said.

 
Deshpande agrees. “If we start implementing it, then we can stop it within one year,” she said.

____________________________________

‘My grandfather didn’t kill his daughters’

Preference for sons over daughters in India, as with other Asian countries, comes from a cultural belief that daughters are economic burdens and sons are not. Cultural practices such as requiring a bride provide a dowry reinforce this.

 
They would see a daughter as a liability. A daughter means you have to spend. Sons are called blank checks,” said Vibhuti Patel, a professor at Mumbai’s Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University.

 
“(In-laws) know they’re going to get easy money from dowry.”

 
Patel grew up in a Gujarati family where she heard stories of uncles choosing to kill unborn females.

 
“My grandfather was the only person who did not kill his daughters,” she said. And by that logic, “he was supposed to be poor.”

 
The practice is not limited to poor families however. Patel said that sex-selective abortions carried out at a clinic are expensive, and are primarily found among the upper classes, who want to keep their property and assets within the family.

 
For now, the fight continues, Patel said: “If there’s a demand, they will provide a supply.”

 
Link to article

 
We are thankful for your support in helping us fight to end gendercide in India. 
Gratefully,

 
The IGP Team

Remember the Women and Girls of China on Giving Tuesday

Today is known as Giving Tuesday, and on this day it is our greatest desire that you would consider giving to the women and girls of China. We are working with Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, an international coalition that opposes forced abortion and sexual slavery in China. Our goal is to raise public awareness regarding the coercive enforcement of China’s One Child Policy, the connection between this coercion and human trafficking in Asia, and the other human rights abuses that arise out of this coercive enforcement.   

In recent news under the misleading headline, “China to Ease One-Child Policy,” Xinhua reports that China will now lift the ban on a second child, if either parent is an only child. This minor reform will not “ease” the One Child Policy. It will merely tweak it. The problem with the One Child Policy is not the number of children “allowed.” Rather, it is the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is telling women how many children they can have and then enforcing that limit through forced abortion, forced sterilization and infanticide. Regardless of the number of children allowed, women who get pregnant without permission will still be dragged out of their homes, strapped down to tables and forced to abort babies that they want, even up to the ninth month of pregnancy. 

Your generous gift supports Women’s Rights Without Frontiers’ fight against gendercide and forced abortion. WRWF is working on the ground in China to protect women who are hiding to escape forced abortions and giving much-needed financial help to mothers of baby girls.   

The more we raise, the more women we can help. If we reach our goal of $30,000 we will be able to support 100 mothers and their baby girls for a year.  

Learn more about the Save a Girl Campaign to combat gendercide in China and give to this cause on Giving Tuesday. The more we raise, the more women we can help. Donate Now

 

Gendercide Takes Away Basic Human Rights from Girls

Guest Blog Post provided by Sarpreet Kahlon

sarpreet kahlonSarpreet is a third year student at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) and is studying Health Sciences. She began a club last year called United Against Gendercide with the hope of creating awareness and inspiring students to unite in the fight against gender discrimination.

United Against Gendercide‘s first event was a screening of It’s a Girl at McMaster University, where they had the opportunity to effectively outline the objective of the club to McMaster students. “The first step towards creating change is raising awareness and educating individuals and we truly felt this film provided us with exactly that opportunity.” -Sarpreet Kahlon

Gendercide Takes Away Basic Human Rights from Girls

My community is not restricted to my neighbourhood and it is not bound by the borders of my country, I am a part of a global community.

As a part of this global community I believe gendercide is one of humanity’s greatest challenges. The acts of foeticide and infanticide continue to take away basic human rights from girls. UNICEF estimates that 5 million female fetuses are aborted every year in India, and 1 out of 4 girls born in India will not survive past puberty.

While some mothers fight for their daughters, others blinded by cultural preferences choose to strangle, burn and bury their daughters. Governments are failing to provide adequate protection. China’s one-child policy continues to promote the killing of girls and promotional posters continue to remind the Indian population that spending 500 rupees on an abortion is better than having to spend 5000 rupees for dowry. In India, the ratio of girls to boys is 914 to 1000. In China the sex ratio stands at 119.45 boys for every 100 girls.

Every year in India approximately 600,000 girls are killed. This shortage has the possibility of promoting a vicious cycle in which girls will be sold, bought and abducted. I believe the struggles each girl faces as she fights to live and the consequences that the increasing disappearance of girls will and is presenting is the greatest challenge we as a global community are faced with.

Under the Indian civil law and Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code, dowry in India has been banned since 1961.

However, even today the headlines of Indian newspapers reveal that daughter-in-laws are blackmailed, tortured and brutally murdered because her parents are unable to fulfil the demands of her in-laws. We need to question why this is still happening, why when a daughter is born in a developing country marriage and dowry are the first set of words that go through her parents’ minds. We also need to question why child marriage continues to deprive young girls of their childhood. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) explains that the greatest reduction in poverty rates were seen when the female labour force grew the fastest. The Council on Foreign Relations predicts that a country’s GDP on average increases by 3%, when 10% more of its girls are educated, and on average $1 in the hands’ of a woman is worth $10 in the hands’ of a man. Women are key contributors to our economy.

However, their efforts often are unnoticed and undervalued. Economically empowering girls and women will not only allow us as a community to progress towards gender equality but it will also provide the opportunity for economic growth. Females have the potential and capacity to bring about economic change, however they are deprived of the skills and resources that are necessary in order to enable them to bring about this change. To economically engage and empower girls and women we must invest in them. We must equip them with the skills and knowledge that will allow them to accelerate in all fields.

Of the 163 million illiterate youth in the world, 63% of them are females. In addition to knowing this, we are also aware that girls who have one more year of education than the national average earn 10% to 20% more. We also know that when female farmers have the same level of education and resources as male farmers, crop yields in Kenya rise by 22%. Therefore, if we are aware of the economical benefits of educating girls we should take steps as a global community to empower girls and unite to fight against gendercide and gender discrimination.

Everyday I come across articles and headlines addressing issues related to girls and women and everyday they remind me of the change that needs to be brought about. They remind me of the questions that need to be answered and they strengthen my desire to be that change. I believe in a world where every girl will be empowered through education, where every woman will be equipped with the skills to defend herself and raise her voice. I believe in a world where every girl will matter.


The views expressed by guest contributors to the “It’s a Girl” blog represent the opinion of the individual author who contributes the content and should not be interpreted as being endorsed or approved by Shadowline Films. We feature these contributions to foster dialogue and exchange on gendercide and invite our readership to join the discussion.

Ending Gendercide: The Policy Pandora’s Box

In 1985 Mary Anne Warren first coined the term ‘gendercide’, a neologism that refers to gender selective mass killing. In India gendercide takes the form of ‘femicide’, the systematic destruction of females from birth through to middle-age, and the statistically abnormal female mortality is the result of foeticide, infanticide, neglect, violence, murder and suicide.

 

The scale of the killing of female infants alone defies belief. Figures from the 2011 census reveal that the birth gender ratio for children aged 0-6 now stands at 914 girls born for every 1000 boys, down from 927:1000 in 2001 and significantly lower than the global average of 935-950:1000 (estimates vary). The aggregate figure masks vast regional disparities. In Haryana, the state with the 4th highest GDP, the ratio is 830:1000. In contrast Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, at 933:1000 has a birth gender ratio that betters the national average. Aside from these extreme cases, large disparities are most evident in richer, better-educated, relatively urbanized areas and among the roll call of offending states are Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab.

If not aborted as foetuses, two mechanisms explain the high mortality of girl-children. First, where food, medicine and shelter are scarce, the ‘parity effect’ refers to the practice of favouring sons. If daughters aren’t abandoned, this neglect leads to higher mortality from stunting and susceptibility to illness. Second, decreased fertility rates (now 2.7 per family) have increased the demand for sons. Girl children tend to survive if they are the first-born or if a brother precedes them. The ‘intensification effect’ describes the fate of subsequent girl-children, whose mortality increases in the desperation to produce a son.

The dropping fertility rate is partially the result of improved female education and employment. Foeticide among the urban, educated and affluent is facilitated by the proliferation of technology, the falling cost of illegal screenings and disregard for laws criminalizing gender selective abortions. Modernisation therefore has not proved to be a panacea. Technology has expedited foeticide and, paradoxically, female empowerment has failed to eradicate the many social and cultural incentives to eliminate girl-children. 

The host of social and cultural drivers include patriarchy, misogyny and the economics of marriage. Sons are heirs, of both the family name and estate, perform funerary rights and provide high returns on parental investments. Having been looked after and educated, sons provide a source of labour, income, a (bride-accompanied) dowry and when parents grow old they function as informal care systems. The opposite is the case for daughters. Custom dictates they leave the home and family upon marriage, and it is therefore the family gaining a bride that is the beneficiary of the costs of raising a daughter and amassing a dowry.

The policy imperative is self-evident. Comparisons between 2001 and 2011 census data show that widening birth gender ratios are creeping into newer areas. The tragedy of the mass elimination of women notwithstanding, the gender discrepancy gives rise to a number of damaging externalities. Violent and sexual crimes increase in populations with excess single young males, the shortage of marriageable women has increased human trafficking and sexual slavery (including minors), and has led to the establishment of a pan-south Asian bride buying industry. Men, unable to get married, now have higher suicide rates and perversely, rather than increasing the value and importance of women, their decreased number has tightened the patriarchal grip over their freedoms and sexuality. The urgency of the problem lies in the lag between normalizing the birth gender ratio and correcting these destructive consequences.

Culture and poor law enforcement are the obvious culprits, and in policy terms a supply and demand distinction is instructive.

On the supply side, factors that facilitate and enable gendercide include easily procured technology, cheap sex determinations and illegal abortions. Extensive legal prohibitions already exist. Sex determination tests were made illegal in 1994 (the PNDT Act was further strengthened in 2003), as was revealing the sex of the child in 1996. The fact that foeticide continues points to the need for more effective law enforcement, greater official accountability, swift punishment of offenders and stricter controls on access to technologies. Frustration with the official response, and cynicism towards the ‘soft’ NGO response, had led activists to take matters into their own hands. Networks of informers carrying out sting operations have led to the imprisonment of many mal-practising doctors. But over-enforcement or over-criminalization risks forcing gendercide underground, placing both mothers – who are often coerced – and children at greater risk.  

As many commentators note, families determined enough to eliminate girls will always find a way. Supply side solutions therefore offer no guarantee that demand for gendercide – son preference, the economic logic of eliminating women and ritualism – would end. Gendercide is a practice in which men and women, of all ages, religions and socio-economic backgrounds are implicated. The policy challenge lies in effectively engaging with these diverse groups. Powerful efforts have been made to increase awareness, but combatting cultural norms is a no-guarantees, generational endeavor. Policy action is necessary immediately and South Korea demands attention as a success story.

In South Korea, high birth gender disparities have quickly been corrected, and the example highlights the importance of addressing underlying, macro causes. In addition to cultural crusades (the national ‘Love your Daughters’ media campaign) and regulating natal service providers, South Korea instituted a range of social service reforms. A three-pronged policy of improving education, changing the laws of inheritance and better welfare provision for the elderly removed many of the economic incentives for gendercide. In India attempts at reducing the costs of raising girl-children have been largely tokenistic: drop-off zones outside orphanages, tuition schemes and, in one case, presenting bicycles to families with newborn daughters. Addressing the causes of gendercide at a structural and societal level may be the missing piece of the policy puzzle. Unfortunately, India is a world leader in poor state service provision, and so optimism with India’s ability to replicate the South Korean example must be limited.

 

The article was commissioned by Oxford India Policy for a special series on India’s future policy challenges.

Ram Mashru is a freelance journalist and south Asia analyst. He specialises in the politics, human rights and international of India; and has had articles published in a number of national and international publications. He can be followed on twitter @RamMashru

 


 

The views expressed by guest contributors to the “It’s a Girl” blog represent the opinion of the individual author who contributes the content and should not be interpreted as being endorsed or approved by Shadowline Films. We feature these contributions to foster dialogue and exchange on gendercide and invite our readership to join the discussion.

The One Child Policy Exacerbates Gender Imbalance in China

wrchina.orgWomen’s Rights in China   

It’s A Girl is a very successful documentary where we see how the cultures of China and India have shared many similarities in discrimination against girls. This kind of backwardness and ignorance have threatened the lives of many baby girls. In contrast with India, it was China’s One-Child Policy that exacerbates the persecution of women and offsets the already serious gender imbalance in the country. Experts estimate that the current gender ratio at birth in China is 119:100, and particularly rural areas as high as 125-135:100. In the next 20 years, more than 40 million men will not be able to marry. This problem is not just a social disaster, but is also a grave threat to world peace.

In the film, the story of Miss Li does not only reflect the harm to women caused by Chinese tradition that look up to men and down on women, but also discloses rural women’s miserable experience of “illegal birth.

In September 2010, WRIC volunteers investigated the reasons behind the sharply decreasing number of girls in rural areas. The most commonly practiced methods of limiting the birth of girls includes killing newborn girls, abandoning baby girls, and prenatal gender selection leading to aborting female fetuses.

1) Killing and Abandonment of Girls

Since the implementation of the One-Child Policy, families that wanted to have boys without going over the official quota often killed or abandoned baby girls. Villagers explained that a bucket of water would be placed next to the mother giving birth. If the baby were a girl, she would be immediately drowned in water and disposed. Other families abandoned or sold their girls. Buddhist convents in Anqing City, Anhui Province had rescued over a thousand abandoned girls.

In Changle City, Fujian, over thirty thousand girls had been sold in three decades to Putian, 100 kilometers away. Most of them became child brides. Babies who were killed or abandoned were almost all girls.

wrchina.org

These women who were sold in infancy as child brides in Putian, Fujian, participated in the conference organized by WRIC in search of their birth parents. The 1980’s were the height of the child bride trade. (photo by WRIC)

The story of the “Orphans of the Shaos” that was uncovered in 2011 and achieved international media attention happened in The Shaoyang Municipal Children’s Welfare Institute (an orphanage) in HuNan providence, about illegally-born children of peasant families, because of no “fertility permit.” The local government officials sent these illegally born children, mostly girls, to an orphanage, for secured fine, where adoptive families were to be “found” by the orphanage. However, our research has shown that some of these children have been sold to various countries, often at very high prices.

Because of the strict One Child Policy, the market for stolen or kidnapped children has grown tremendously. Human traffickers had latched on to this lucrative trade. Adoptions by western nationals usually cost between $30,000 to $50,000, further fueling demand.

Since 2005, the abandonment of baby girls has begun to decrease, but still remains a problem. But boys still vastly outnumber girls. In two villages in Susong County, Anhui, boys accounted for about 65% of births in both 2010 and 2011. An elementary school teacher disclosed to us that there were only 16 girls among 57 students of his in total.

2) Prenatal Gender Selection by Ultrasound

 Although China’s government has banned gender selection through the use of ultrasound, in reality, private clinics such as mobile vans equipped with ultrasound machinery can determine the gender of the baby in the womb for 100 to 200 Yuan ($30). Government clinics often disregard the ban to help out friends and family or to earn extra income. Some families even buy their own ultrasound machines to make sure of having a boy. To stay within the quota and avoid paying the fines, families choose to abort girls immediately after ultrasound exam.

wrchina.org

This illegal ultrasound clinic charges 200yuan if the result were a boy, 100 for a girl. (photo by WRIC)

China’s government has realized the severity of the gender imbalance problem. In recent years it has increased propaganda efforts and implemented some incentive to encourage the birth of girls in some localities. However, these measures have had very limited effect, especially in rural areas. The main culprit is the forced Family Planning/One Child Policy, which is still held as a fundamental national objective. Coupled with easy and prevalent access to ultrasound and astronomical fines, this policy has led to disastrous gender imbalance that is still worsening.

Particularly in rural areas where the persecution of the one-child policy is most severe, female infanticide is still common. China and India are traditional male-dominated societies. Violence and discrimination against female aspects are very similar, but China’s official one-child policy and its 30-year history of implementing it has unreasonably deprived women of their basic rights —- their reproductive freedom.

Guest Blog By Jing Zhang, Women’s Rights in China

Jing leads Women’s Rights in China. To learn more about their programs to support women and girls in China, go to wrchina.org or http://wrchina2007.blogspot.com.

To make a donation to WRIC:

Send a Check to:
Women’s Rights in China
136-31 41st Ave, 2A
Flushing, NY 11355
USA

Make an online donation to PayPal account: wrchina2007@gmail.com
Contact WRIC: wrchina2007@gmail.com, wrichina@yahoo.com

 You can also explore additional ways to get involved in the fight against female gendercide through www.causes.com/itsagirl.

Gendercide: Inequality Towards Girls

b2ap3_thumbnail_Navneet-Gill.jpg

Guest Blog Post provided by Navneet Gill

Nanveet is a high school student at Abbotsford Traditional Secondary School. She attended GirlKIND‘s first event and screening of It’s a Girl last September. She left the event feeling motivated and inspired. So much so, that she did an interactive presentation on the film and the issue of gendercide to her classmates, hoping to raise awareness and motivate others to react.

Nanveet is only 14 and has become an active member of GirlKIND. The following is Nanveet’s personal blog about gendercide.

“Hey mister that’s my sister shoveled in a grave, and nobody even kissed her. Hey mister that’s my sister.”

Gendercide also known as female feticide has been occurring in Asia for many years, and now spreading worldwide. Why do people look down on us girls? Why do they find us to be burdens? Have they forgotten that it was a woman who brought them into this world? I think together we need to raise awareness of Gendercide, and put an end to the cause. I, being a girl, feel the need to bring up this problem.

Every year in China and India especially, millions of girls are killed simply because they are considered a burden. Some mothers don’t even feel remorse for killing them, an example in the film {It’s A Girl} a mother in southeast India, had eight kids all of which were daughters and she killed each one with not even an ounce of regret in her body. Girls are suffocated with rice shoved down their throats, or a cloth on their mouth so they can’t breathe.

They poison them, bury them alive, leave them in trashcans or even strangle them to death. It’s happening so often doctors are starting to tell parents that the ultrasound showed a girl even if it was a boy because the doctors get paid more to do abortions. Parents are killing girls because of the dowry they have to pay for them to get married is so much higher.  If they have both a girl and a boy, they boy is treated like a king and the girl like an animal. Girls who do ‘survive’ gendercide face neglect.

China has been so against girls being born that they have a ‘One-Child-Policy’ where if you have a girl the first time, you can try again for a boy. If you have a boy you can’t have any more kids. They go around villages making sure all families are following the rules. There are people who have more than one girl, but have moved away so they don’t have to suffer the consequences, while their daughters live with relatives. Without girls being born, the world is trafficking. This means that there are too many boys and not enough girls for the boys to get married, which results in no more babies being born. The UN estimates that there are about 200 million girls in the world missing, either dead or alive due to these problems. But if the kids do survive, they suffer neglect from their parents and the people around them. They are forced to do work they are not capable of doing, or they are pushed around ant not treated like a real human, sometimes punishment goes as far as death.

b2ap3_thumbnail_GirlKIND_IAG_Sry-14.jpg

Some people have tried to protest against this, but are threatened by their own government, with so different types of punishments. Including sexual assault and rape. There are various homes in India for girls who don’t have a home. Some of them have “cradle programs,” whereas parents leave their daughters in a cradle compartment, which then signals inside the home that a new girl was dropped off. There are thousands of girls throughout India that are abandoned everyday just because they were born a girl.  You’re probably thinking

‘My parents don’t think that’ ‘they wouldn’t ever do that to me’ but there are parents even now in Canada and the US who do this, up until today. We are blessed to be brought up in such great homes where we have people love us, who care for us.

“From a woman a man is born, so why call her bad? From her, kings are born. Without women no one would be here today.” Gendercide is a problem, spreading worldwide. Unless we try and make a change nothing will happen. People are killing girls so fast it seems like any other job. How would the parents feel if they never had the chance to live? Be the change that you want to see in your world. would you feel only being held in the arms of death?

When I first heard of gendercide I never thought it was such a big deal, I just thought ‘No one needs to do anything it’ll end, just like every other problem does’.

But after watching the documentary I realized it was a big issue, bigger than I thought. After thinking about it more I decided to ‘educate’ some of my classmates and teachers, so I put together a slideshow and presented it to the class. Using the facts from the presentation I then went along to write the speech. I never really thought that one little speech and presentation could do much in showing and education people about the smaller issues occurring worldwide. I realized that I was blessed to be brought up in a home where I was surrounded by people who love and care for me; I am blessed to not have to be going through what some girls are going through. Some people may start thinking ‘It’s true, boys do usually get special treatment’ don’t go around and start lessening your care for your boys, just make sure that every child you gave birth to or adopt is aware that you love each and every one equally, whether it be a girl or a boy.

Yes, I am only 14 and I don’t necessarily know what it’s like to have kids, but I do know that it isn’t the best feeling in the world when you feel like you aren’t loved or treated as equally as the other kids in the house.


The views expressed by guest contributors to the “It’s a Girl” blog represent the opinion of the individual author who contributes the content and should not be interpreted as being endorsed or approved by Shadowline Films. We feature these contributions to foster dialogue and exchange on gendercide and invite our readership to join the discussion.

The Invisible Girl Project: Saving Lives in India

logo-igpIn a recent trip to South India, I visited one of Invisible Girl Project’s partners that rescues and cares for unwanted baby girls.  Rather than letting them be killed or trafficked, this home will take girls in, care for them, educate them, and teach them their inherent value…as human beings.  The home has been rescuing and caring for girls for years, raising them, and then providing college educations or trades for them, preparing them for a future. Invisible Girl Project has been supporting them for the past three years.

I always love to visit this place, this home for girls.  It is in the middle of lush Indian countryside, sprawled across 100 acres.  When I enter the front gate, the Director always welcomes me “home.”  I see familiar faces of little girls I met years ago and who remember my name.  I smile as I hear the singing and laughter as over 150 little girls play and get to act like little girls.  It does feel like “home” in so many ways for both my wife and me.

On this trip, I had time to spend with the Director and asked him if he would share some stories with me that I had not heard before in other visits…stories of some of the little girls who had been rescued and whose lives had been changed.  As we sat in his office, he reached into one of his file cabinets and handed me a yellowed piece of paper that had a picture of a baby girl at the top and the name printed in large letters, “Kousalya.”  Her story read as follows:

There was hush-talk of suspicion over a bag left at the gate of the baby home at 5 A.M.  The weather was chill, cooled by the drizzle.  When we went nearby, our hearts almost froze by the sight of the girl baby wrapped in rags and kept inside a nylon handbag.  It was divine providence that the stray dogs did not damage the bag with the human babe inside.  A note inside the bag read, ‘I am too weak and old to rear this child.’ Surely it is a gift of God for us to care for the gift of life of this baby.

Having heard a number of stories over the years about the little girls who had been saved, I had never had the chance to read the story of Kousalya.  In fact, I probably could not pick her out of the crowd of girls that normally swarmed me every time I visited.  No, Kousalya was not a name or a face I knew.  I asked the Director, “Is she here?”  He replied that she was indeed and that she was a little shyer than the other girls, but if I would like to meet her, he would introduce me.

We left his office and strolled the grounds to find her.  Encountering a number of girls who were running and playing, we eventually approached a quiet group of four little girls sitting on the ground.  As they sat reading and doing homework, the Director said, “Kousalya, please come here.”  She stood quickly, obeying.  He then said, “Kousalya, this is Brad uncle.”

She was beautiful, about 11 years old…Full of life and light in her eyes.  I smiled at her and asked, “Kousalya, how long have you lived here?”

She responded, “As long as I can remember.  I came when I was a little baby.  I am studying very well.  I have many friends.”

I smiled and thanked her. I then thought to myself, that Kousalya was given a chance that every girl—every person in India deserves.  She was rescued and has been cared for, unlike other girls in India, who are murdered as little babies.  She was thriving, unlike other little girls in India who are abandoned or neglected.  She was being educated and cared for, unlike other little girls in India who are seen as a commodity and are trafficked into brothels at such tender ages.

Yes.  She had a home, where they believed it was a “gift of God” to raise her.  A home.  And, seeing the tangible result of the rescue and care for Kousalya reminded me why my wife and I feel like it is “home” too.

While IGP’s partner organization is not the ultimate answer to ending gendercide in India, this organization is acting to save lives of girls, just like Kousalya, one girl at a time.  And, if one girl at a time learns that her life is valuable, just because she is a human being, then the Indian culture can begin to be changed, one child at a time.

Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”  IGP supports Indian organizations that help save and transform the lives of little girls like Kousalya, one at a time.

The Invisible Girl Project is part of the It’s a Girl action campaign. Please consider donating to them through the It’s a Girl Causes campaign.

DONATE to the INVISIBLE GIRL PROJECT 

 


brad small

Brad McElya and his wife, Jill founded Invisible Girl Project (IGP) in 2009, while living in India.  Now a non-profit organization based in the U.S., IGP is a grassroots organization that supports Indian organizations that rescue vulnerable girls and care for them, transforming their lives, and teaching them their inherent value.  Brad and Jill regularly travel to India to visit IGP’s partners and support their organizational and financial needs.


The views expressed by guest contributors to the “It’s a Girl” blog represent the opinion of the individual author who contributes the content and should not be interpreted as being endorsed or approved by Shadowline Films. We feature these contributions to foster dialogue and exchange on gendercide and invite our readership to join the discussion.

 

Why I Founded Women’s Rights Without Frontiers

I first learned about China’s One Child Policy while working as a litigation attorney in the early nineties. My client was seeking political asylum after escaping from a Chinese government that had forcibly sterilized her. I was shocked to discover that her case was not unique and that under China’s coercive family planning policy, women are routinely dragged from their homes and made to have abortions. Because some of these procedures are so violent, the mothers often end up dying along with their unborn children.

Screen Shot 2012-12-14 at 1.47.21 PM

Also, baby girls are selectively aborted, just because they are girls.  China has the worst gender ratio in the world:  120 boys born for every 100 girls born.  Girls are also abandoned at birth — left out to die.

I founded Women’s Rights Without Frontiers to fight this injustice and give people worldwide direct ways to help save lives in China. Our projects support mothers who are at risk of aborting or abandoning their baby girls and pregnant women without birth permits who are in hiding to escape forced abortions.  We are already saving lives!

Help us stop the violence and end the One Child Policy by making a contribution to our projects that are making a difference for girls in China. Together we can expose the brutality of China’s One Child policy, take a stand for these countless silenced women and girls, and save lives.

Donate to Women’s Right Without Frontiers

 


51 REggie

Reggie Littlejohn is Founder and President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, an international coalition to expose and oppose forced abortion, gendercide and sexual slavery in China.  She also led the international effort to free blind activist Chen Guangcheng, who arrived in the United States on May 19, 2012.

An acclaimed international expert on China’s One Child Policy, she has testified six times at the United States Congress, twice at the European Parliament, and at the British and Irish Parliaments as well.  She was told that in 2008, she was the first person ever to address the European Parliament on the One Child Policy. This first Address at the European Parliament was included as a chapter in the book, Human Rights in China After the Olympic Games, (Human Rights Without Frontiers, 2009), available on Amazon.com.


The views expressed by guest contributors to the “It’s a Girl” blog represent the opinion of the individual author who contributes the content and should not be interpreted as being endorsed or approved by Shadowline Films. We feature these contributions to foster dialogue and exchange on gendercide and invite our readership to join the discussion.

What Can Islam Offer to Combat Gendercide?

51 FK picWhen I first became familiar with the It’s a Girl documentary, a few Qur’anic verses came to mind:

When the sun is wrapped up [in darkness]

And when the stars fall, dispersing

[] And when the seas are filled with flame

And when the souls are paired with their bodies

And when the female infant [who was] buried alive it is questioned

For what crime she was killed?

…Then every person will know what (deeds) he has brought (of good or evil).[1]

These haunting verses are a reminder that in Islam, God holds humanity accountable for their actions in this world, including the egregious crime of female infanticide.  Here, the Qur’an describes God on the Day of Judgment, championing the innocent, the most vulnerable in society, by enabling her to testify as to how she was unjustly robbed of life.  Where we were when this happened? While it continues to happen today?

On October 6, 2012, Mercy Mission Canada’s Being ME (Muslimah[2] Empowered) held its annual women’s conference, entitled “Divine Liberation,” in Toronto, Canada.[3]  The conference focused on encouraging Muslim women to seek their better selves and obstacles they faced in their journey towards empowerment. Gendercide and gender preference were addressed as the conference hosted a screening and panel discussion of the It’s a Girl documentary to a crowd of over two thousand women of diverse ethnicities, ages and backgrounds.  After the screening, the panelist moderator asked: Was this relevant to the Muslim community? What can Islam offer to combat gendercide?

Islam outlines a comprehensive approach to changing societal attitudes towards raising daughters.  Islam unequivocally condemns female infanticide (and by extension, female feticide as it exists today), completely eradicating the practice prevalent in 6th century Arabia at the time of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.)[4].  As discussed in It’s a Girl, economics is the driving force behind gendercide. God responds, “And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Surely, such a killing is a great sin.”[5]

Islamic doctrine further emphasizes the importance of raising daughters so they feel valued as individuals.  To illustrate, the Qur’an criticizes the attitudes of parents who are disappointed in having female children and raise them accordingly: “When news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her in (sufferance) and contempt, or bury her in the dust?  Unquestionably, evil is what they decide![6]

Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.), more than once, discussed the rewards of raising daughters to shift the fundamental social construct in ancient Arabia — words that remain relevant today: “Whosoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, does not insult/scorn her, and does not favor his/her son over her, God will admit him/her [parent] into Paradise.”[7] In another narration, he stated, “Whomsoever God has given two daughters and is kind towards them will have them as a reason for him/her to be admitted into Paradise.”[8]  Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) also stressed the importance of educating and being affectionate towards children, female and male alike.

Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) did not merely preach kind treatment towards daughters, but lived his life as testament to his words.  Muhammad raised five daughters with love, compassion & respect. In stark contrast to an ancient Arab culture where chauvinistic perceptions of manliness translated to stoicism towards children and contempt for girls, Muhammad’s unquestionable love and adoration for his daughters exemplifies the excellence of his character and consistency of his words.  Whenever his youngest daughter, Fatima, would enter a room, Muhammad would stand up and seat her in his place and they would speak closely to each other in hushed tones.  He once said, “Fatima is a part of me, and whoever saddens her has harmed me.”  Muhammad lost both his sons in infancy, and while he grieved as any parent would, he never once suggested being the father of five girls was a burden or something to be ashamed of.

Condemnation of female infanticide and gender preference and the counter- emphasis on the value of daughters in Islam are themes found throughout the Qur’an and recorded statements and practices of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.).  However, the ideals of Islam do not always translate to reality, and many of the attitudes reflected in the It’s a Girl documentary remain relevant throughout the Muslim world today.

Being a part of humanity means Muslims should care about injustice, no matter where and to whom it happens.   Muhammad stated: “Whomsoever of you sees a evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then hate it in his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.”  This exaltation is not qualified by issue, geography, time, or religion and is only characterized as one thing – working against injustice however it may occur.

As a community, there is need for introspection among Muslims to confront the disparity of treatment between the genders. Muslims are not immune from generations of ingrained cultural norms rife with patriarchy and paternalism where sons receive preferential treatment over daughters, are afforded more opportunities, and daughters are relegated to archaic and stereotypical roles historically suited to females.  As conference organizers, there was across the board consensus that the issue was relevant and touched each of us individually although we all came from ethnic backgrounds spanning the continents. A scan of the conference audience illustrated many attendees had personal experience with gender preference in their own families. Throughout my life, I have witnessed and heard similar threads of the same stories emerge –family members, friends, and their relatives, living in North America and our mother countries, who experienced pressure to have sons, who themselves wished only to sons first, who perceived raising daughters as a drain on family resources, and marital gift inequities.

In Islam, there is no such thing as dowry; there is a mandatory gift (mahr) the husband must give as agreed upon between husband & wife to fulfill the marital contract. The mahr is a measure of good will and given to the wife alone (not her family). However, many South Asian Muslims attach a gift exchange requirement between the bride and groom’s families, and often with the expectation that the bride’s family offer the groom and his family exorbitant gifts. The more eligible, educated, wealthier, and overall the better the personal resume of the groom, the more expensive and the longer the list of demands become upon the bride’s family.  The gifts are to be given not only to the groom, but to his immediate family and extended aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. as well. To place limits or give less than expected are signs of ill will, the bride’s family labeled as miserly, poor, or lower class and family politics ensue. These practices have no place in Islam, and yet they exist and effectively create the same burdens and economic pressures discussed in the It’s a Girl documentary.

It must be said that the above-mentioned is not always the rule and cannot be generalized to apply to all Muslims or South Asians or both.  By the same token, it cannot be ignored that these experiences are recognized and shared by many in our community.

Closer to home, North American Muslims may recognize or experience the effects of gender bias in their own cities.  Not far from where the Being Me conference was held, several hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), all located in areas with high concentrations of Asians, refuse to permit sex determination ultrasounds.[9]  In a 2012 Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) editorial, studies revealed sex selection “at higher parities if previous children were girls among Asians — that is people from India, China, Korea, Vietnam and Philippines.”[10] In other words, Asian families who already had daughters were more likely to have sons as second or third children than was the normal ratio in Canada. Similar studies in the United States have yielded similar results. Concerns may be further exacerbated by the popularity of privately owned ultrasound businesses in Canada that permit individuals to ascertain the fetus’ sex earlier than could be determined from their doctors and more significantly, during the period of elective abortion permitted in Canada.[11]

None of these reports identify the religion of the ethnic groups participating in female feticide so it unclear to what extent, if any, Asian Muslims contribute to in this heinous practice in North America.  More significantly however, is recognizing attitudes in the Muslim community which foster unequal treatment between sons & daughters, however they manifest themselves, and working towards thwarting the elements contributing to gendercide and gender preference.

The Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s legacy of social change outlines a blueprint for just and compassionate treatment of daughters and more generally, women for Muslims worldwide. As Muslims, we must also hold ourselves accountable as a community to reflect the Islamic paradigm of social change as illustrated in the Qur’an and life of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.). As members of the global community faced with gendercide, we can do no less than oppose in our hearts, speak out with our voices, and change with our hands.

 


[1] Qur’an, Chapter 81, Verses 1-2, 6-9, 14.

[2] “Muslimah” – means “female Muslim.” The noun “Muslim” encompasses both males & females.

[3] For more details, see: http://canada.being-me.org/

[4] In the Islamic tradition, the words “peace be upon him”, here abbreviated as “p.b.u.h.,” are to follow the name of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.).

[5] Qur’an, Chapter 17, Verse 31.

[6] Qur’an, Chapter 16, Verses 58-59.

[7] Abu Dawood

[8] Bukhari #1352, Muslim #2629

[9] Yang, Jennifer,“Six GTA hospitals won’t reveal fetal sex during ultrasound,” http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1162613–six-gta-hospitals-won-t-reveal-fetal-sex-during-ultrasound

[10] Kale, Rajendra, “It’s a girl – could be a death sentence.” http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2012/01/16/cmaj.120021

[11] Sawa, Timothy and Pieper, Annie Burns,“ Fetal gender testing offered at private clinics: Raises fears that gender selection is happening in Canada.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/06/12/ultrasound-gender-testing.html

51 FK picMs. Fasiha Khan was a member of the Being ME conference’s Program committee tasked with developing and implementing the lectures and workshops for the conference.  After learning about the It’s a Girl documentary, she introduced it to conference organizers, the launch pad from which the Being ME conference hosted its screening of the documentary at the conference.  The Being ME second annual women’s conference, entitled “Divine Liberation,” focused on Muslim women’s empowerment through the Islamic paradigm.  The conference was held on October 6, 2012 with over 3,000 attendees.

Fasiha Khan is an attorney with a family law background in divorce, custody and domestic violence. She grew up in Maryland, where she was an active member of the Muslim community, developing programs for Muslim youth, speaking on issues related to Muslim women’s rights and volunteering to advocate for domestic violence survivors. She is married to a fantastic man who is very supportive of her work.


The views expressed by guest contributors to the “It’s a Girl” blog represent the opinion of the individual author who contributes the content and should not be interpreted as being endorsed or approved by Shadowline Films. We feature these contributions to foster dialogue and exchange on gendercide and invite our readership to join the discussion.

 

Why ‘It’s a Girl’ is a Different Kind of Film

are women human rita.banerjiWhen I started The 50 Million Missing Campaign on India’s female genocide, in 2006, I had two goals. One, was to raise global awareness about this massive, human rights atrocity in India, for many didn’t and still don’t know.  The other goal was to build a grassroots, public momentum that will demand official accountability and action, of the kind that all genocides warrant.
Over the last few years I’ve given countless interviews.  As a writer, I am well aware of how critical the role of the media is in communicating with the public, and I am very indebted for their help in putting out the word both about our campaign and the issue of India’s female gendercide.
Yet, I also have to say, that sometimes there are ways in which the media has presented this issue that I find deeply despairing.  It’s almost like they end up further dehumanizing this human rights catastrophe!  I am always shaken up by questions that use phrases like“the dropping sex ratio,” or “the shortage of women in India”  “Shortage” is a word used when we discuss ‘things’ –‘resources’ — like food, land and water, things that we use! Not human beings!
 
Perhaps it is this view of women as use-based commodities by the media, which also makes it attempt to rationalize this genocide – as if there’s actually a legitimate explanation for it. Or they patronize this bizarre idea that economic incentives should be given to people to not kill girls and women!!
Would we try to rationalize any other human genocide? Would we think giving economic incentives to Europe or to Rawanda or Bosnia would have stopped the genocides there? Would we speak of the Jewish genocide as the “dropping Jewish ratio” or as a “shortage of Jews” in Europe?  So why do they does the media dehumanize the girls and women of India this way? 1.8 million girls born between 1985-2005 were battered to death before they turned 6 years old. 106,000 young women were burnt to death in just one year. 1 woman is killed every 5 minutes, as millions of women are abused and brutally forced through multiple, back-to-back abortions to rid girls! Click here for news reports of the kind of violence that women in India face every day!
Last year, I asked a documentary film maker from Europe, who was interviewing me, why reporters consistently chose to ignore my remarks that the annihilation of women increases as you go up the economic and education ladder in India.  Look at any other genocide: it is the powerful that have played the biggest roles! She said, because their audience (in Europe) wouldn’t like to hear it or understand it!!
The media sets the tone for how the public thinks, acts and reacts. If the media itself views women as ‘sexual’ or ‘reproductive’ resources for men to use, it makes the work of campaigns like mine that much more difficult.
 
Sometimes, when I give an interview, it feels like, they’ve already got the plot and vision of “a story” in their head and I’m just required to plug in the numbers.  And so I was pleasantly surprised when the ‘It’s a Girl’ team showed up at my door (on the dot of the appointed time, I should add, even though they were coming from the other end of the world), with a copy of my book ‘Sex and Power,’ pages and passages duly marked for further discussion, along with tons of questions.  I realized they had come to talk and understand!!  Even after they returned to the U.S., they continued to email me and communicate about the development of the presentation of their film.
I recently saw the full version of the film, and it finally put my mind to ease.  ‘It’s a Girl’ is not just another media story on India’s ‘falling sex ratio.’ It is an ideological challenge to a global humanity to open its eyes to a human rights atrocity on a historically unprecedented scale.  It is also a call for the world to finally recognize that women are human.
Amnesty International has officially nominated this film for their 2012 Reel Film Festival on films that deal with the critical human rights issues of our times.  The film has also been nominated for the 2012 International Human Rights Film festival in Vienna.
Finally! The women of India have a voice in the world to protest the wrong done to us, and most of all to remind the world that we are HUMAN and that members of the global community need to take a stand and speak up!
If you are reading this, please, where ever you are, stand up and be counted. Sign this petition and add your voice to the momentum telling the Leaders of the world to stop the female genocide in India.

 

Rita Banerji 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 Rebellions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji

 


The views expressed by guest contributors to the “It’s a Girl” blog represent the opinion of the individual author who contributes the content and should not be interpreted as being endorsed or approved by Shadowline Films. We feature these contributions to foster dialogue and exchange on gendercide and invite our readership to join the discussion.