Local authorities promised to launch an investigation into why, out of 216 babies born in an Indian district, not one of those babies was a girl.
At the time of the original report in late July this year, not one female baby had been reported born within the last three months. In 132 villages in the Uttarkashi district of India, 216 children were reported born, but not one of those births was a girl.
A few days after the original report, local authorities claimed the official data were not as originally suggested. Rather, only 82 villages had alarming female-to-male birth ratios and only 16 villages saw no female births at all while the other 66 villages merely saw fewer girl births than boy births.
Now local authorities are saying that the original reports may have been in error or a misinterpretation of the data.
According to an article in the Hindustan Times from July 25, 2019, Uttarkashi chief magistrate Ashish Chauhan said that while it was true 133 villages reported no girl births in the last three months, another 129 villages reported no boy births in those same three months.
Chauhan offered as possible explanations for these puzzling figures the fact that many villages are thinly populated, and therefore saw only one birth in the three month period. Chauhan added that 166 villages each saw the birth of only one child. Of those 166 births, 78 were boys and 88 were girls. This suggests no gender disparity but that the original data was misread or misinterpreted.
In reference to the original reports, Chauhan said,
“This is basically a misinterpretation or mis-analysis of the data….because of the confusion in the data, we have decided to conduct a re-verification by district-level officers in places where the gap is high. The officials will submit the report to us by the end of this week and then a final number will be released.”
Bear in mind the Hindustan Times published its article almost three weeks ago. Yet, there is still no update as to the final results of the ordered investigation.
In a phone call with Al Jazeera, prior to its July 23rd article, Chauhan said,
“Of the 132 villages surveyed, 82 showed a higher rate of deliveries, so we will investigate those villages first. As of now, we cannot confirm whether any female foeticide had happened in these villages.”
Women’s rights activists are unconvinced.
Activist and scholar Nivedita Menon said,
“This is completely unheard of that for three months, no girl child was born in so many villages. There must have been some process by which sex determination was done illegally and abortions were carried out.”
According to Save the Children’s Prabhat Kumar,
“It cannot be a coincidence that not a single female child is born in 132 villages. It seems to be yet another case of discrimination and neglect towards the girl child.”
While an investigation is pending and no one can say for certain, if illegal sex-selective abortions did account for the disparity in female births, it would not come as a surprise. India has continued to have a problem with sex-selective abortion and female infanticide even after those practices were outlawed in the early 90’s.
Indian families have traditionally favored male children over female children. Men are considered the breadwinners of the family and are expected to care for their aging parents when they get older, whereas female children are expected to marry and care for their husbands’ parents. Moreover, when girls marry, some parents still pay expensive dowries to the groom and his family for the young woman’s hand in marriage, despite this practice being outlawed.
In 2015, amidst concerns that Indian families did not properly value their girl children, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a political program called “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (Save Daughters, Educate Daughters), which aimed to address the skewed sex ratio of boy to girl births and “change people’s mindsets towards the girl child.”
However, four years later, data released by the Indian government shows that 56 percent of the funds allocated for the program was spent on publicity. In contrast, less than 25 percent was disbursed to the different Indian states to actually implement the program and 19 percent of funds were not released at all.
The plan was to focus on districts where the girl-to-boy sex ratio was lower than the national average. In 53 of the 161 districts where the program was implemented, the sex ratio has actually declined since 2015, meaning that fewer girls have been born in those districts and/or more boys have been born, over the past four years.
Despite this apparent failure of the Indian government to implement its program to “change mindsets towards the girl child,” residents of villages from areas categorized as “red zones,” or areas where the percentage births of girl children is reported at less than 25 percent, say they welcome both girls and boys equally.
“I have four girls and I am giving proper education to all of them,” said one mother. “It is by God’s grace that we got daughters, why would we discriminate between boys and girls?”
Another mother who has a five-year-old son and is expecting her second child said, “Be it girl or boy, we only pray that the child is healthy and happy.”
One mother who went to her local hospital for a check-up said, “There isn’t an ultrasound machine here for normal check-up to know whether the child in the womb is healthy or not, so determination of sex is far-fetched.”
According to The Federalist, in 2011, a high court in Mumbai ruled that authorities have the power to “seize and seal” ultrasounds used for illegal sex-determination tests. However, critics say there is a lack of political will to enforce such a ruling.
Sex-selective abortion is no trifling matter. Not only is it the intentional killing of an innocent human being for no other reason than for being the wrong gender, but it also means a higher ratio of men to women — men who will be unable to marry and procreate and carry on their family name. It is estimated that there are 63 million women missing from India’s population as a result of sex-selective abortion and infanticide.
Jill McElya, the president and founder of Invisible Girl Project, told The Federalist,
“[B]oys will grow into men, who will have no one to marry, because the girls have been systematically eliminated. What will these men do? What the families do not realize is that in effort to preserve their family lines by having sons, they are effectively working to bring their family names to extinction, when their sons will never marry. They want to have a son because they want to be taken care of in their old age. So you have the burden of a female, and the incentives to have a son.”
Nitin Tonk, the director of operations of the Invisible Girl Project in New Delhi said not only is abandonment of baby girls at birth very common in Uttarkashi but, “Sources also indicate that there are operating physicians who have use of mobile sex-revealing ultrasounds in the back of a vehicle, although this practice is illegal in India.”
McElya added that in some rural areas “[t]here is sometimes the myth that people believe if you have a baby girl and you kill her, that the next baby you have will be a son.” She said she knew of one Indian couple that had killed 11 of their baby girls in hopes of having a son before letting their 12th baby live.
Although the traditional Indian attitude of favoring male children and disfavoring female children is deep and long-standing, the country has made great strides in recent decades to combat this prejudice. It was once the widespread practice to give girls names translating to “unwanted,” but in 2011, the Indian state of Maharashtra held a renaming ceremony in which 200 girls such girls received new names, marking the district’s health department attempt to “try to consciously send out a message that girls should be welcome.”
Sadie-Megin is an attorney. She earned her JD from Trinity Law School in May 2019 and was admitted to the State Bar of California in January 2020.