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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
India rights campaign for infanticide mothers
By Sampath Kumar
BBC correspondent in Madras

Baby girl in Indian hospital shortly after birth
Baby girls are in danger
Human right groups fighting the practice of female infanticide in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have launched a new campaign.

They are now coming to the aid of mothers found guilty of killing their new-born babies.

Surveys indicate that 16 new-born girls in every 1,000 in Tamil Nadu are killed.

But rights campaigners say the mother of an unwanted girl child is as much a victim as the baby.

Killing baby girls soon after birth is widely practised in poor southern districts of the state, with some areas reporting 15% deaths among female babies.

Human rights groups say the practice has now spread from three to 13 districts.

Victimised mothers

In recent years, two mothers have been sentenced to life imprisonment for killing their baby daughters.

If she disobeys, she has to face the wrath of the family
Justice Suresh
Several others have been given jail terms ranging from six months to three years.

A spokesperson for the Campaign Against Female Infanticide, Renganathan, says in a poor and illiterate society girls face threats of sexual exploitation.

Some are even killed if dowry demands are not met.

And there is no social security provision - so brides are dependent on the in-laws with whom they live.

Ranganathan says in such societies, the mother of an unwanted girl child is as much a victim as the child herself.

According to a retired Bombay High Court judge, Justice Suresh, women have no choice.

"The decision to kill the baby is made by her husband and parents-in-law.

"If she disobeys, she has to face the wrath of the family."

He says the law is deficient and it is time to adopt measures to help mothers who themselves are victims.

Social stigma

Twenty cases of female infanticide, in which the mothers were punished, have been documented by a Madurai-based non-governmental organisation, the Society for Integrated Rural Development.

Among them, one family lost its home and two couples separated because of the punishment given to the mother.

All of the affected families had members who showed suicidal tendencies and three mothers actually attempted suicide.

Children in 10 of the families lived like orphans after their parents were sent to jail.

And 12 families were financially ruined after fighting costly legal battles.

Eminent feminist writer, Rajam Krishnan, one of the first to write on female infanticide in the state, said she met several mothers who were full of remorse when they told her why they had to kill their child.

But the head of Tamil Nadu's Women's Commission, Vasanthi Devi, said mothers could not be exonerated.

She said the girl child's right to live could not be ensured if a deterrent punishment was removed.

The commission has, however, recommended milder punishment.

Rights activists say even milder punishment could leave the mother with social stigma and cause severe psychological problems.


SEE ALSO:
Life for India baby girl killers
17 Apr 03  |  South Asia
Abandoned baby boy reverses trend
19 Mar 03  |  South Asia
India's lost girls
04 Feb 03  |  South Asia
India targets female foeticide
15 Feb 03  |  South Asia


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