• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

India The War Against Girls


Jun 1, 2004
The World's War Against Girls
Since the late 1970s, 163 million female babies have been aborted by parents seeking sons

Mara Hvistendahl is worried about girls. Not in any political, moral or cultural sense but as an existential matter. She is right to be. In China, India and numerous other countries (both developing and developed), there are many more men than women, the result of systematic campaigns against baby girls. In "Unnatural Selection," Ms. Hvistendahl reports on this gender imbalance: what it is, how it came to be and what it means for the future.

In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. This ratio is biologically ironclad. Between 104 and 106 is the normal range, and that's as far as the natural window goes. Any other number is the result of unnatural events.

Yet today in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls. In China, the number is 121 - though plenty of Chinese towns are over the 150 mark. China's and India's populations are mammoth enough that their outlying sex ratios have skewed the global average to a biologically impossible 107. But the imbalance is not only in Asia. Azerbaijan stands at 115, Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120.

What is causing the skewed ratio? Abortion. If the male number in the sex ratio is above 106, it means that couples are having abortions when they find out the mother is carrying a girl. By Ms. Hvistendahl's counting, there have been so many sex-selective abortions in the past three decades that 163 million girls, who by biological averages should have been born, are missing from the world. Moral horror aside, this is likely to be of very large consequence.

In the mid-1970s, amniocentesis, which reveals the sex of a baby in utero, became available in developing countries. Originally meant to test for fetal abnormalities, by the 1980s it was known as the "sex test" in India and other places where parents put a premium on sons. When amnio was replaced by the cheaper and less invasive ultrasound, it meant that most couples who wanted a baby boy could know ahead of time if they were going to have one and, if they were not, do something about it. "Better 500 rupees now than 5,000 later," reads one ad put out by an Indian clinic, a reference to the price of a sex test versus the cost of a dowry.

But oddly enough, Ms. Hvistendahl notes, it is usually a country's rich, not its poor, who lead the way in choosing against girls.

"Sex selection typically starts with the urban, well-educated stratum of society," she writes. "Elites are the first to gain access to a new technology, whether MRI scanners, smart phones - or ultrasound machines." The behavior of elites then filters down until it becomes part of the broader culture. Even more unexpectedly, the decision to abort baby girls is usually made by women - either by the mother or, sometimes, the mother-in-law.

If you peer hard enough at the data, you can actually see parents demanding boys. Take South Korea. In 1989, the sex ratio for first births there was 104 boys for every 100 girls - perfectly normal. But couples who had a girl became increasingly desperate to acquire a boy. For second births, the male number climbed to 113; for third, to 185. Among fourth-born children, it was a mind-boggling 209. Even more alarming is that people maintain their cultural assumptions even in the diaspora; research shows a similar birth-preference pattern among couples of Chinese, Indian and Korean descent right here in America.

Ms. Hvistendahl argues that such imbalances are portents of Very Bad Things to come. "Historically, societies in which men substantially outnumber women are not nice places to live," she writes. "Often they are unstable. Sometimes they are violent." As examples she notes that high sex ratios were at play as far back as the fourth century B.C. in Athens - a particularly bloody time in Greek history - and during China's Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century. (Both eras featured widespread female infanticide.)

She also notes that the dearth of women along the frontier in the American West probably had a lot to do with its being wild. In 1870, for instance, the sex ratio west of the Mississippi was 125 to 100. In California it was 166 to 100. In Nevada it was 320. In western Kansas, it was 768.
There is indeed compelling evidence of a link between sex ratios and violence. High sex ratios mean that a society is going to have "surplus men" - that is, men with no hope of marrying because there are not enough women. Such men accumulate in the lower classes, where risks of violence are already elevated. And unmarried men with limited incomes tend to make trouble. In Chinese provinces where the sex ratio has spiked, a crime wave has followed. Today in India, the best predictor of violence and crime for any given area is not income but sex ratio.

A high level of male births has other, far-reaching, effects. It becomes harder to secure a bride, and men can find themselves buying or bidding for them. This, Ms. Hvistendahl notes, contributes to China's astronomical household savings rate; parents know they must save up in order to secure brides for their sons. (An ironic reflection of the Indian ad campaigns suggesting parents save money by aborting girls.) This savings rate, in turn, drives the Chinese demand for U.S. Treasury bills.
And to beat the "marriage squeeze" caused by skewed sex ratios, men in wealthier imbalanced countries poach women from poorer ones. Ms. Hvistendahl reports from Vietnam, where the mail-order-bride business is booming thanks to the demand for women in China. Prostitution booms, too - and not the sex-positive kind that Western feminists are so fond of.

The economist Gary Becker has noted that when women become scarce, their value increases, and he sees this as a positive development. But as Ms. Hvistendahl demonstrates, "this assessment is true only in the crudest sense." A 17-year-old girl in a developing country is in no position to capture her own value. Instead, a young woman may well become chattel, providing income either for their families or for pimps. As Columbia economics professor Lena Edlund observes: "The greatest danger associated with prenatal sex determination is the propagation of a female underclass," that a small but still significant group of the world's women will end up being stolen or sold from their homes and forced into prostitution or marriage.

All of this may sound dry, but Ms. Hvistendahl is a first-rate reporter and has filled "Unnatural Selection" with gripping details. She has interviewed demographers and doctors from Paris to Mumbai. She spends a devastating chapter talking with Paul Ehrlich, the man who mainstreamed overpopulation hysteria in 1968 with "The Population Bomb" - and who still seems to think that getting rid of girls is a capital idea (in part because it will keep families from having more and more children until they get a boy).

In another chapter she speaks with Geert Jan Olsder, an obscure Dutch mathematician who, by an accident of history, contributed to the formation of China's "One Child" policy when he met a Chinese scientist in 1975. Later she visits the Nanjing headquarters of the "Patriot Club," an organization of Chinese surplus men who plot war games and play at mock combat.

Ms. Hvistendahl also dredges up plenty of unpleasant documents from Western actors like the Ford Foundation, the United Nations and Planned Parenthood, showing how they pushed sex-selective abortion as a means of controlling population growth. In 1976, for instance, the medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Malcom Potts, wrote that, when it came to developing nations, abortion was even better than birth control: "Early abortion is safe, effective, cheap and potentially the easiest method to administer."

The following year another Planned Parenthood official celebrated China's coercive methods of family planning, noting that "persuasion and motivation [are] very effective in a society in which social sanctions can be applied against those who fail to cooperate in the construction of the socialist state." As early as 1969, the Population Council's Sheldon Segal was publicly proclaiming the benefits of sex-selective abortion as a means of combating the "population bomb" in the East. Overall Ms. Hvistendahl paints a detailed picture of Western Malthusians pushing a set of terrible policy prescriptions in an effort to road-test solutions to a problem that never actually manifested itself.

There is so much to recommend in "Unnatural Selection" that it's sad to report that Ms. Hvistendahl often displays an unbecoming political provincialism. She begins the book with an approving quote about gender equality from Mao Zedong and carries right along from there. Her desire to fault the West is so ingrained that she criticizes the British Empire's efforts to stamp out the practice of killing newborn girls in India because "they did so paternalistically, as tyrannical fathers."

She says that the reason surplus men in the American West didn't take Native American women as brides was that "their particular Anglo-Saxon breed of racism precluded intermixing." (Through most of human history distinct racial and ethnic groups have only reluctantly intermarried; that she attributes this reluctance to a specific breed of "racism" says less about the American past than about her own biases.) When she writes that a certain idea dates "all the way back to the West's predominant creation myth," she means the Bible.

Ms. Hvistendahl is particularly worried that the "right wing" or the "Christian right" - as she labels those whose politics differ from her own - will use sex-selective abortion as part of a wider war on abortion itself. She believes that something must be done about the purposeful aborting of female babies or it could lead to "feminists' worst nightmare: a ban on all abortions."

It is telling that Ms. Hvistendahl identifies a ban on abortion - and not the killing of tens of millions of unborn girls - as the "worst nightmare" of feminism. Even though 163 million girls have been denied life solely because of their gender, she can't help seeing the problem through the lens of an American political issue. Yet, while she is not willing to say that something has gone terribly wrong with the pro-abortion movement, she does recognize that two ideas are coming into conflict: "After decades of fighting for a woman's right to choose the outcome of her own pregnancy, it is difficult to turn around and point out that women are abusing that right."

Late in "Unnatural Selection," Ms. Hvistendahl makes some suggestions as to how such "abuse" might be curbed without infringing on a woman's right to have an abortion. In attempting to serve these two diametrically opposed ideas, she proposes banning the common practice of revealing the sex of a baby to parents during ultrasound testing. And not just ban it, but have rigorous government enforcement, which would include nationwide sting operations designed to send doctors and ultrasound techs and nurses who reveal the sex of babies to jail. Beyond the police surveillance of obstetrics facilities, doctors would be required to "investigate women carrying female fetuses more thoroughly" when they request abortions, in order to ensure that their motives are not illegal.

Such a regime borders on the absurd. It is neither feasible nor tolerable - nor efficacious: Sex determination has been against the law in both China and India for years, to no effect. I suspect that Ms. Hvistendahl's counter-argument would be that China and India do not enforce their laws rigorously enough.

Despite the author's intentions, "Unnatural Selection" might be one of the most consequential books ever written in the campaign against abortion. It is aimed, like a heat-seeking missile, against the entire intellectual framework of "choice." For if "choice" is the moral imperative guiding abortion, then there is no way to take a stand against "gendercide." Aborting a baby because she is a girl is no different from aborting a baby because she has Down syndrome or because the mother's "mental health" requires it. Choice is choice. One Indian abortionist tells Ms. Hvistendahl: "I have patients who come and say 'I want to abort because if this baby is born it will be a Gemini, but I want a Libra.' "

This is where choice leads. This is where choice has already led. Ms. Hvistendahl may wish the matter otherwise, but there are only two alternatives: Restrict abortion or accept the slaughter of millions of baby girls and the calamities that are likely to come with it.

UNNATURAL SELECTION: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, by Mara Hvistendahl. PublicAffairs, 314 pages, $26.99


June 22, 2011


  • aborting-girls.jpg
    7.6 KB · Reads: 238


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
By Sherry Karabin

There is a little-known battle for survival going in some parts of the world. Those at risk are baby girls, and the casualties are in the millions each year. The weapons being used against them are prenatal sex selection, abortion and female infanticide — the systematic killing of girls soon after they are born.

According to a recent United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) State of the World Population Report, these practices, combined with neglect, have resulted in at least 60 million "missing" girls in Asia, creating gender imbalances and other serious problems that experts say will have far reaching consequences for years to come.

"Twenty-five million men in China currently can’t find brides because there is a shortage of women," said Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute in Washington, D.C. "The young men emigrate overseas to find brides."

The imbalances are also giving rise to a commercial sex trade; the 2005 report states that up to 800,000 people being trafficked across borders each year, and as many as 80 percent are women and girls, most of whom are exploited.

"Women are trafficked from North Korea, Burma and Vietnam and sold into sexual slavery or to the highest bidder," Mosher said.

State-Sanctioned Infanticide?

Mosher, the first American social scientist allowed into China, puts much of the blame on Beijing's one-child policy, which took effect in 1979.

The policy encourages late marrying and late childbearing, and it limits the majority of urban couples to having one child and most of those living in rural areas to two. Female infanticide was the result, he said.

"Historically infanticide was something that was practiced in poor places in China," Mosher said. "But when the one-child policy came into effect we began to see in the wealthy areas of China, what had never been done before in history — the killing of little girls."

In recent years, female infanticide has taken a back seat to sex-selective abortion or female feticide, due to the advent of amniocentesis and ultrasound technology as well as other prenatal sex selection techniques, many of which are now readily available in clinics and doctors’ offices.

"We feel it's a serious problem that everybody should be concerned about and aware of," said Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee. "This is a form of abortion that, from our point of view is especially egregious. Abortion is claimed to help women; obviously in these cases, females are the direct victims, because women in these cultures are not valued.

"In our family we adopted a Chinese baby," she continued. "There have been thousands and thousands of them adopted since China’s one-child policy created this overabundance of baby girls in orphanages."

How bad are the imbalances between males and females in Asia?

Generally, the normal sex ratio at birth (SRB) is between 103 and 105 males per 100 females, and in rare cases 106 or a bit more than that.

Countries that are known to have or have had higher sex ratio at birth numbers include South Korea, which peaked at 115 in 1994, Singapore where the SRB registered 109 in 1984 and China, which has seen the numbers increase over the past two decades.

Published reports in China show the gender ratio for newborns in 2005 was 118 boys for every 100 girls, and in some southern regions like Guangdong and Hainan, the number has reached 130 boys for every 100 girls.

The 2000 Chinese census put the average sex ratio at 117, with Tibet having the lowest number at 103 and Hainan registering the highest at 136.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., attributes the large sex-ratio imbalances in places like China to a combination of factors: an enormous and enduring preference for boys reinforced by the low socioeconomic status accorded to women; the use of rapidly spreading prenatal sex determination technology for gender-based abortion; and the rapid drop in fertility in different populations, making the outcome of each birth even more important.

"The one-child policy intensifies this problem, but if that policy stops and fertility levels stay at one or two, the problem won’t entirely go away," Eberstadt said. "When the average number is down to one or two, there is an incentive for parents to meddle with the outcome. In places where fertility levels are high, there are few signs of sex selection."

In his presentation before the World Youth Alliance in New York City last April, Eberstadt warned that "The Global War Against Baby Girls" is expanding.

"There are gender imbalances in almost every East Asian country, but Japan," said Eberstadt, who has also noted alarming irregularities in Western Asia in places like Cyprus, Qatar and Pakistan, as well as in some countries on the African continent, including Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Indian Girls Bear Dowry Burden

In India, where the child sex ratio is calculated as the number of girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 years age group, the problem is severe. The 2001 Census shows there are only 927 girls per 1,000 boys, representing a sharp decline from 1961 when that number was 976. In certain parts of the country there are now fewer than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys.

"India is a very mixed bag," Eberstadt said. "In some parts there are no signs of any unnatural imbalances; in other parts the numbers are grotesque."

For instance, 2001 census reports show that Punjab and Haryana reported fewer than 900 girls per 1,000 boys.

"The problem is more prevalent in the northern and western states, where prosperity, rapid fertility decline and patriarchal (male heads the family) mindsets combine to put girls at risk," said Ena Singh, the assistant representative at UNFPA.

Like China, there is a strong son preference for various socio-economic reasons, such as the son being responsible for carrying on the family name and support in old age. Furthermore, in some sections of India it is believed that only sons can perform the last rites for parents.

In addition to sharing a strong son preference, both India and China lack a national social-security system. As it is assumed that a daughter will become a part of her husband’s family, parents must rely on their sons to take care of them.

Since the 1970s, India’s government has promoted a two-child family as "ideal." While no formal laws exist, the general fertility decline in the country has led to smaller families, with couples still preferring to have at least one son. But the government has done more than just suggest this number.

"In India it has been done state by state, village by village," Mosher said. "There have sterilization campaigns and there is enormous pressure. Villages that won’t comply have been denied fertilizer, access to irrigation water, etc."

Complicating matters even further in India is the dowry system, where families pay large sums in order to marry off their daughters. Although prohibited in 1961, newspaper reports illustrate the continuing phenomenon. This can be very expensive for families, adding to the perception that girls can be a financial burden.

Abortion is legal in India under certain conditions, but sex-selective abortions or female feticide is a crime.

In 1994, the government enacted the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PC & PNDT), which prohibited those conducting such tests from telling or otherwise communicating to the woman or her family the sex of the fetus. The law was amended in 2003 to prohibit sex selection before or after conception.

"In recent years, prenatal sex selection and female feticide in India has increased," Singh said. "Though it is against the law for ultrasound technologies to be used to detect the sex of the child, it is still done illegally."

In 2006 a doctor and his assistant in the northern state of Haryana were sentenced to two years in jail and fined for revealing the sex of a female fetus and agreeing to abort it. It was the first time medical professionals were sentenced to jail time under the (PC & PNDT) Act. Three years earlier, a doctor in Punjab received a fine. Singh estimates that hundreds more cases are being investigated across the country and taken to court.

Experts who have analyzed the National Family Health Survey 2 (NFHS2) estimate that about 300,000 girls go "missing" in India each year. Other studies have put the number between 150,000 and 500,000.

While many people see this as a problem of the poor, analysts say it is more prevalent among those in the wealthier and educated segments of society.

Men in parts of India are also beginning to have difficulties finding brides, causing some to leave the country to do so.

"Hindu girls are being smuggled and purchased from poor countries like Nepal and Bhutan to be brides for Indian men," said Bernard Dickens, professor emeritus of health law and policy at the University of Toronto Law School.

Combating the Problem

In recent years various Indian state governments and media houses have launched initiatives to address the gender imbalances, including "Save the Girl Child" campaigns.

Last February, the Indian government announced its "cradle scheme," whereby orphanages would be set up to raise unwanted baby girls. Other incentives include tax rebates on ownership of properties and reserving seats for female candidates in villages, districts and at municipal levels.

Community groups, corporations and individuals have also started various efforts to enhance the status of the girl child. In March 2007, politician Sonia Gandhi, chairwoman of the United Progressive Alliance, spoke out against female feticide and the need for gender equality at the at the International Women’s Day celebrations in New Delhi.

Lara Dutta, UNFPA’s goodwill ambassador, a popular actress and Miss Universe 2000, has also been working extensively with young people to raise awareness about the issue.
China too has enacted laws in an effort to meet its goal of lowering the sex ratio at birth to normal levels by 2010.

In 1994, the Mother and Child Health Law of the Peoples Republic of China outlawed the practice of sex identification of the fetus and sex-selective abortions without medical requirements. This was reaffirmed in the 2002 Population and Family Planning Law.

Officials also started the "Care for Girls" campaign to promote equality for men and women and economic support is being offered to girl-only families in the countryside.
"Raising awareness is important," said William Ryan, a Asia and Pacific regional information advisor for the United Nations Population Fund. "I think the effort to emphasize equality of the sexes and the value of women in society will help reduce the problem in the long run."

China Holds On to One Child

However, China has pledged to keep its one-child policy in place until the year 2050, a policy which it admits is "related" to the large sex imbalances in the country.

"The implications are potentially disastrous," Mosher said. "The answer is economic development, not restricting the number of people."

This year, the United States sponsored a resolution at the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women that called for eliminating infanticide and gender selection. The resolution was withdrawn due to opposition from several countries, including China and India; however, the issue of prenatal sex selection was included in the final conference document.

Interestingly South Korea was one of the countries to support the resolution. Like China and India, it too has had its own problems with sex imbalances; however, progress is being made.

If the imbalances continue, Adam Jones, executive director of Gendercide Watch, sees another possible outcome.

"Because of the disparity, surviving women have greater market value," he said. "As a result, it may become more economically viable for families to have girl children, thus reducing rates of female infanticide and sex selection."

As China and India work toward solving their problems, Eberstadt points out that three large European countries are also showing disturbing signs.

"Greece, Macedonia and Yugoslavia betray some hints of prejudicial death rates for little girls in the post-war period," he said. While the numbers are very small, he notes they are "nonetheless curious and unusual.

"In the western hemisphere, Venezuela and El Salvador both have unnatural death rates for little girls and now also display unnatural sex ratios at birth," he continued.

Published reports point to problems among some immigrant groups in Canada as well. And even in the United States, Eberstadt said, some Asian-American populations have begun to "exhibit sex ratios at birth that could be considered biologically impossible."

"Since the mid-1990s, the issue of female infanticide and sex selection has been highlighted in several conferences and in several U.N. documents," said Samantha Singson, chief U.N. liaison for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. "Unfortunately the issue isn’t getting as much attention as we feel it deserves."

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,281722,00.html#ixzz1QdjvyR6R
📌 For all latest updates, follow the Official Sikh Philosophy Network Whatsapp Channel: