(Published in Sify.com on 13 April 2012, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/female-infanticide-lets-face-reality-news-columns-mentxycfhcb.html?ref=false)
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First, there was Baby Falak – the two-year-old whose battle for survival won over everyone at the hospital she was admitted into, and had people across the world queuing up to adopt her. And now, there’s Baby Afreen, a three-month-old tortured consistently by her father, her teen mother too scared to protest.
Afreen was brought to Vani Vilas hospital with a dislocated neck, cigarette burns on her body, human bite marks on her thighs and buttocks, trauma to the head, and damage to her retinas. Falak was brought to AIIMS with a fractured skull, broken arms, human bite marks, and cheeks branded with hot iron. Both babies had been abused by the people they trusted most, and both died within a month of each other.
There will be campaigns and court hearings, and there will be people baying for the blood of the perpetrators of such horrific acts, but what really stands between us and another Baby Afreen or Baby Falak? How do we stop girl babies from being brutalised? How do we stop their mothers, or guardians, from being afraid of the consequences of taking them to hospital? How do we stop teenage girls from being married off?
The truth is, we can’t. We can pass all the laws that we want, but there is simply no way to keep tabs on every household in a country whose area and population are as vast as that of India, where mindsets are as varied as they are rigid, and where crippling poverty breeds panic.
Illegalising sex determination won’t stop people from turning to quacks, and making mothers primary guardians of their babies won’t stop them from cowering before the bread-winners of the family.
All the awareness campaigns in the world will not make a girl child welcome in every home in this country. What we should do, instead, is think of ways out – to put schemes in place that will give these children access to a loving home, a home where they will be wanted as much as, if not more than, boys.
First, parents should be given the option of putting up unwanted babies for adoption, and should be free to make the choice based on the sex of the child. To those of us from educated, privileged backgrounds, the idea of a gender bias may be abhorrent, but we cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist. The ban on revealing the sex of the baby could ensure the birth of the child, but doesn’t guarantee the baby’s safety after that. Giving prospective parents the choice of gender-selective adoption just might.
Of course, there is every likelihood of this being misused, and of mothers being forced to give up their babies by their families. And so, we need a support system in place for women who want to keep their children, but don’t have the means to raise them. This isn’t to imply that women who aren’t willing to give up their babies for adoption should walk out on the spouses they’re financially dependent on. But if families were to get free baby provisions, it would ease the burden on them.
That doesn’t take care of the social stigma. Having a son is considered indicative of a man’s masculinity. Which is where gender-specific counselling comes in. If a doctor were to explain the process by which chromosomes combine, and how little it has to do with the dominance of one particular parent, chances are that the myths may break down.
However, given that it’s unlikely the government will change its policy on revealing the sex of a foetus, it would help if all hospitals – government and private – were to have a cradle baby scheme, allowing parents to give up unwanted children for adoption after birth. Yes, there are risks, and babies surrendered under this scheme would have to be monitored carefully to prevent human trafficking, but tracking unwanted babies would be a far more practical undertaking than tracking every single baby to make sure it is well cared for.
We should also consider bringing in a law similar to the Dowry Death law, under which the families of all babies who die unnatural deaths or under mysterious circumstances will be investigated.
In an ideal world, parents shouldn’t care about the sex of the baby. In an ideal world, hospital wards shouldn’t be filling up with battered babies. In an ideal world, people should know from experience, if not intelligence, that it takes a man and a woman to produce a child. But, for now, we need to stop believing we live in an ideal world, and save the children who’re born into resentment.