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Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
India's unwanted girls
A poor family in India
Poverty and social pressure are said to be responsible for the problem
By Jyotsna Singh in Delhi

The methods adopted to kill unwanted children in India are often cold-blooded and cruel.

The ritual is performed by a family member or a professional killer, by swaddling a new-born in a wet cloth or simply giving her a spoonful of paddy grain with milk.

It simply cuts her tender throat, suffocating her to death.

At times, the mother is forced to hire a sweeper for a small sum of 25 rupees (50 cents) to dispose of the child by simply poisoning the baby with the latex of the calitropis plant, or holding her so close to a table that she cannot breath.

Female foeticide is affecting the sex ratio in Tamil Nadu
The problem spreads across the country.

Health officials in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have identified three districts - Dharmapuri, Salem and Madurai - as problem areas.

In Dharmapuri alone, close to 1,300 children are killed every year, while Salem comes second with over 1,000 such killings.

Availability of sex determination tests like amniocentesis and ultrasound seem to have increased the problem further.

Cruel death

Last week the body of a new-born girl child was exhumed from a village in Paparapatti in the Dharmapuri district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Authorities say they arrested the father of the child along with another man, following complaints from the local villagers that the two had killed the unwanted child.

Map of Tamil Nadu
An investigation into the case is continuing.

Dharmapuri tops the list of areas with the highest number of cases of female infanticide and cases like these are not rare.

Reports say that the practice is widely prevalent in the interiors of Tamil Nadu and is adversely affecting the sex ratio.

Government officials put the number of cases of female infanticide in Tamil Nadu at 3,000 each year.

But they say there is very little evidence to allow direct administrative action.

Getting data for female infanticide is even harder.

Medical termination of pregnancy is legal in India and it is nearly impossible to ascertain whether the abortion followed an ultrasound test to detect the sex of the foetus.

Decline of women

Activists working in the area say the practice of female infanticide is particularly rampant among the Kallar community.

They say that the community valued its female population until the early years of the 20th century.

However, after the green revolution brought agricultural prosperity, men assumed greater role in the economic process and women were made subservient.

Since the 1970's the female population began to decline.

Killing of female foetuses has only added to the problem though selective abortion is a crime under the Indian law.

As part of its preventive measures the government has tried to compulsorily register all pregnancies and follow them up.

But that is a daunting task for a village health nurse, who sometimes has to cover a population of 5,000.

Activists and non-governmental organisations say a strong campaign against the issue may be the only immediate answer.

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See also:

11 Jul 00 | South Asia
India rapped over birth bias
04 May 00 | South Asia
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26 Apr 00 | South Asia
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12 Oct 99 | World population
World population: Special report
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