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Saving Baby Girls From Infanticide in India

The 21st century has witnessed a great rise in development around the world. Communications and scientific research are developing at a rapid pace. The world is moving toward great change in culture and lifestyle. Gender equality is becoming common in many places, and girls are achieving heights once thought not possible.

However, even as the world is moving toward progress, the age-old social evil of female infanticide still shows its ugly face in developing countries such as India.

The prevalence of female infanticide in Chellampatty, Madurai, is heartbreaking. No efforts to curb this social evil have succeeded thus far.

However, our Child Survival Program (CSP) has become a powerful instrument of God to change, eradicate and reduce the prevalence of female infanticide and feoticide in this society through adequate postnatal care and effective child development. One particular Child Survival Program doing this is aptly named “Mercy.”

Female infanticide is the intentional killing of girl babies. Even in modern India, some parents long for a male child rather than a female. As a result, they adopt different methods to get rid of baby girls soon after they are born.

Parents normally do not kill the first or second girl child. But the third female child born in the family often is killed. Villagers use every available means to kill an unwanted girl child.

Some babies are given cactus milk that acts as a poison; hot chicken soup is poured into the baby’s mouth; babies are made to lie down on wet sack cloth, and unable to bear the wetness the babies die of fits; at the time of delivery, as the baby comes out from the mother’s womb, the nose and mouth of the baby is deliberately closed for some time until it dies of suffocation, and so on.

The motive behind such a practice is the dowry system, which requires that a bride’s family pay out a great deal of money or property when a female child is married. Thus, for poor families, the birth of a girl child is seen as the beginning of financial downfall and extreme poverty. Also, a family without a male child is considered to be a family without an inheritance.

No sooner than a girl child is born, the parents begin to save money exclusively for the girl to prepare for the large sum of money that has to be spent on her as she grows up.

During puberty, a great feast is traditionally held, inviting friends and relatives. The purpose is to declare that their girl child is fit for marriage. The parents spend a lot of money for this event.

When giving her in marriage, a large sum of money has to be spent again for a dowry. Most often the dowry demanded is much above what the family can afford. As a result, to get their daughter married, parents are forced to borrow the amount, and they have to spend the rest of their lives repaying the amount borrowed.

And the cost of a daughter isn’t over with marriage. The parents are expected to continue spending for their girl child. During the eighth month of their daughter’s pregnancy, they are to hold a grand event, and the first delivery expenses have to be taken care of by them.

The parents are to put ornaments of gold on their grandchild when he or she is born, and they have to bear the expenses of an ear-piercing ceremony, another grand event to which all friends and relatives are invited. Nearly $1,000 to $2,200 is spent on average.

Moreover, whenever there is a death in the family of the girl’s husband, the entire funeral expenses have to be borne by the girl’s parents.

Because of these many financial obligations invited by a birth of a girl child, very little attention is given to girls in the family. They are considered a burden.

Recognizing the need in this area, the staff at the Mercy Child Survival Program are working to save the lives of innocent girl babies.

Initially, they identify pregnant mothers and their families and begin counseling them. The women are encouraged to accept the birth of a girl child. Awareness classes are conducted on various issues, such as family planning, reproduction, child birth, abortion, types of delivery, immunization, communicable diseases and child marriage.

Ramaye and Lakshmi

But beyond advocacy for the babies, there are numerous occasions wherein the staff have intervened and saved the life of a girl child.

A woman named Pandeswari gave birth to twin girls, Ramaye and Lakshmi. Her husband, Muniyandi, works as a sweeper. Pandeswari had one daughter already, so the birth of twin girls disappointed them.

Although determining the gender of a baby before birth is illegal in India, in their town it is still secretly done. As a result, the moment parents come to know it is a girl child, the child is aborted.

In this case, the family wanted to abort the twins in the womb. However, the Child Survival Program staff closely watched over them, counseled them, and protected the babies.

One day, when the Child Survival Program meeting was going on, Kanamma, Pandeswari’s mother-in-law, came to the meeting with her two newborn granddaughters and laid them on the floor. One baby weighed under two pounds and the other weighed 2 1/4 pounds.

Kannamma said very openly to the staff at the Child Survival Program,

“We can’t take care of these two children. If you want to save the children, please help us; otherwise we don’t mind killing them.”

Both babies were enrolled in the Child Survival Program. And now, the girls are in the child sponsorship [3] program.

Amudha with her family

Yet another instance involves a mother called Amudha. She had two daughters. When she conceived for the third time, everyone eagerly expected her to give birth to a boy child. However, even the third time, she bore a girl.

This disappointed everyone in that family as well as in the village. Everybody advised her to kill the baby and wait for another child who might be a boy.

At that time a CSP staff member intervened and counseled the mother and father that female infanticide is a social evil. The family was also promised help through the Child Survival Program.

Now this child, Swathi, is five years old. She is a Compassion-sponsored child.

Another mother who was helped is Radhika. She has two daughters named Adhisaya and Lavanya. When the first daughter was born, the father was not happy.

The second time a daughter was born, Radhika went through several struggles. There were lots of fights and quarreling among the family.

When Radhika conceived for the third time, she moved to her mother’s place in the third month of her pregnancy, fearing that her husband and her in-laws would kill the baby in the womb.

Radhika with her youngest daughter

Radhika’s baby was born and she had another girl, now 20 months old. However, Radhika’s husband has not come to take her back home or to even look at his child.

Her husband says, “I don’t need the girl child.”

The Child Survival Program provides constant support to the little child. All of Radhika’s daughters are with her now. They have lost the love of their father, and because of it, at times Radhika felt that she would end her life.

However, due to the encouragement and support provided by the CSP staff, Radhika and her children have a new lease on life.

Had it not been for the Child Survival Program and your support, today you would find children like Ramaye, Lakshmi and Swathi only in the grave.

The staff of the Mercy Child Survival Program