***Written by production manager, Jane Mellema***
In mid December, 2014, I sat down to read the newspaper. My eyes were drawn to a small article entitled, “Newborn girl left on stairs of shopping complex in Raja Park.” Raja Park is a fairly well to do neighborhood in our city. Even in big cities, this still happens (1)
Traditionally in India, there are reasons why a girl child was considered more of a burden than a boy child. With the practice of joint families, sons were the ones who provided for their aging parents. The marriage of a girl child often required a large amount of money in the form of a dowry to get her potential in-laws to accept her, and then she would leave the family and no longer provide any benefit. A son was like an insurance policy that one’s future should rest secure. Sons would also receive the inheritance. Daughters, from the day of their birth, caused concern.
Female infanticide, abuse, neglect, disappearance, and murder have been huge issues in India through the years. Pressure was put on wives to produce male children for their families, and they were often mistreated if they could not “succeed.” Girl children often were treated second-rate.
The newspaper stated in February of 2012 that India was officially the most dangerous place in the world to be born a baby girl: “An Indian girl aged 1-5 is 75% more likely to die than an Indian boy, making this the worst gender differential in child mortality for any country in the world.” (2)
Technology and development have not helped in this issue. In 1984, Unicef figures recorded that out of 8000 abortions in Mumbai, 7999 were female children. (3) In 1994, the government of India passed the “Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act,” (this act was amended in 2002), which declares that diagnostic tests are not allowed to determine the sex of a child. This was in hope that abortion of girls would decrease.
A week after the sad article about the abandoned girl baby in the paper, there was a much more hopeful article filling a huge section of the first and second page. The Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan was highlighted. In 2011, it was written that Jhunjhunu had 831 girls born for every 1000 males. In 2014, people are being urged to take steps to address this inequality. One village in the district pledged to plant a tree for every special occasion, including the birth of a child - regardless of the sex. One farmer beautifully stated, “If we continue to cut trees and not plant them, it will disturb the ecosystem. Likewise, if parents continue to have only male children, it will create a misbalance in society.” Some priests in the region agreed to add a pledge in marriage ceremonies to save girl children.(4)
This article provided a glimmer of hope. Leadership and health officials considered this campaign successful and declared the intent to take this event to other regions in the state. However, they were right in their assertion that ultimately laws and legislature will not change reality. The message must penetrate the minds, beliefs and practices of the public.
India has taken some big picture steps to address the issue. In 2004, an act was passed that allowed daughters to inherit family property almost in equality with sons, and in 2007 the Senior Citizens Act declared that both daughters and sons were to be responsible for parents in proportions to the share of property to be inherited.(5) Other programs are being implemented to try to encourage the education of girls.
In many cultures of the world, women have had to work their way out of a position of being second to men. Why is this so? What is it that causes cultures to see them as intrinsically less? It is ironic that without women, men would not survive! The key in this issue in any culture is a deep and profound change in understanding at the heart level of the common person. Men need to realize their wives, daughters, sisters, and women in the community are unique, valuable and to be treasured, and women need to believe this is true about themselves.
Most of the people I interact with regularly in India are women. I engage with women of different religions and various economic levels. No matter who they are, Indian women are delightful, beautiful, hard working, talented, creative people. My life is enriched through knowing them. India has begun to recognize this. Now for each individual to see this!
 Times of India, December 16, 2014
 Shrinivasan, Rukmini, “India Deadliest Place in the World for a Girl Child.” Times of India, February 1, 2012. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-deadliest-place-in-world-for-girl-child/articleshow/11707102.cms
 http://www.childlineindia.org.in/Pre-natal-Diagnostic-Techniques-Act-1994.htm and http://www.childlineindia.org.in/girl-child-rights-protection.htm
 Times of India December 22, 2014
 UNICEF, “Preventing Gender Based Selection,” World Health Organization, 2011. (http://www.unicef.org/gender/files/Preventing_gender-biased_sex_selection_WEB_final_small.pdf)
Photo credit: Sylvia King