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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 10:51 GMT
India's lost girls
Ultrasound scan
Ultrasounds seal the fate of female foetuses

A marriage crisis is hitting thousands of men in parts of rural India which are running out of potential brides.

The traditional preference for boys instead of girls has led to widespread abuse of modern pre-natal scans.

The technology should protect the health of mother and baby.

People say, you have two girl children, you have done some sins in your past life

Surinder Sain
But, wrongly used, it is a death sentence for unwanted girls.

The practice of determining the sex of a foetus and aborting girls is illegal, but widespread.

The worst affected states, such as Haryana and Punjab, now have some of the most skewed sex ratios in the world - and the proportion of baby girls is still falling.

Buying brides

A whole generation of young men is failing to find brides.

Many are now resorting to "buying" girls from poor communities outside the region to bear their children.

Government officials raid clinics to make sure doctors are not abusing modern technology by tipping off parents they were carrying girls.
Indian girls
Prejudice against girls runs deep

In many clinics, the illegal and systematic abortion of girls is common practice.

In Punjab, special prayers of thanks greet the birth of a boy. Prejudice runs deep. Girls are born into silence.

"People say, you have two girl children, you have done some sins in your past life," said office manager Surinder Saini.

"With a boy child, people say your generation will propagate, your older age will be safer. This is the concept of our society."

Combating prejudice

Mr Saini is a fierce campaigner against female foeticide. He and his wife have two daughters.

But even they aborted their third child after tests showed it was a girl.

All those years of prejudice against girls are finally coming back to haunt this society.

I couldn't find a local girl so I had to go outside to get married

Chandram
There is such an acute gender imbalance here that it is causing real social problems.

Young men are coming of marriageable age, only to discover there is no-one left for them to marry.

The young girls who would have been their brides never had the chance to be born.

The villages are full of frustrated bachelors. In Haryana, a quarter of the female population has simply disappeared.

Many now see buying wives from outside as their only option.

Foreign imports

"I couldn't find a local girl," said Chandram, who purchased a wife last year from Bangladesh. "So I had to go outside to get married. But it wasn't cheap."

His bride looked about 15. Now she is thousands of miles from home.

They have just had their first child - a baby girl. She looked sickly, struggling to survive.

The ghosts of missing babies are closing in.

If newly-weds continue with this brutal practice of eliminating girls, this whole region is on course for catastrophe.

See also:

01 Feb 02 | Americas
04 May 00 | South Asia
16 Nov 99 | South Asia
16 Nov 99 | South Asia
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