NOTE FROM EDITOR: This content honors Compassion’s historical work in India. While we no longer have an India sponsorship program, we are grateful for the lives changed and meaningful work achieved through our sponsors and donors in our nearly 50 years there. For a detailed explanation of the end of our sponsorship program in India, please visit: compassion.com/india-update.
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 impossible.
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 to change, eradicate and reduce the prevalence of female infanticide and feticide in this society through adequate postnatal care and effective child development. One particular Child Survival Program doing this is aptly named “Mercy.”
The Hard Truth about Infanticide in India
Female infanticide is the intentional killing of baby girls. 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 the babies soon after they are born.
Parents do not normally kill the first or second female child, but the third is often killed. Villagers use every available means to be rid of an unwanted girl.
Some babies are given cactus milk that acts as a poison; hot chicken soup is poured into a baby’s mouth; babies are made to lie down on wet sack cloth, and unable to bear the wetness they die of fits; at the time of delivery, as a baby comes out from the mother’s womb, her nose and mouth is deliberately closed for some time until she dies of suffocation, and so on.
The Cost of a Daughter
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 girl is married. Thus, for poor families, the birth of a girl 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 is born, the parents begin to save money exclusively 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 is fit for marriage. The parents spend a lot of money for this event.
When giving her in marriage, a large sum 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 debt.
And the cost of a daughter isn’t over with marriage. The parents are expected to continue spending for her. During the eighth month of their daughter’s pregnancy, they 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 covered by the girl’s parents.
Because of these many financial obligations invited by a birth of a baby girl, very little attention is given to girls in the family. They are considered a burden.
Mercy for Baby Girls
Recognizing the need in this area, the staff at the Mercy Child Survival Program are working to save the lives of innocent baby girls.
Initially, they identify pregnant mothers and their families and begin counseling them. The women are encouraged to accept the birth of a girl. Awareness classes are conducted on various issues, such as family planning, reproduction, child birth, abortion, types of delivery, immunization, communicable diseases and child marriage.
But beyond advocacy for the babies, there are numerous occasions wherein the staff have intervened and saved the life of a female 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, 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 program.
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. However, she bore a girl.
This disappointed everyone in the 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 and is a sponsored through the Compassion program.
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 gave birth to another girl who is 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 girl. 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.