Sunday, 13 January 2013

From binning to hailing: Eradicating female abandonment

I still remember meeting a lady in Singapore; a mother of three sons, who informed me that she would keep trying until she had a daughter. Even though I am sure many of the privileged and educated Indians feel the same way, I just wish that every Indian shared the same emotions.

Female infanticide in its newest form is becoming a trend in India. Don’t kill, just bin! Yes, binning is a much less criminal way of doing away with a girl child, and you get the same results as well. If unnoticed, these babies anyway die due to lack of food, warmth and care, if not anything worse like small rodents and insects attacking on them. A much less criminal, but equally or a more gruesome death for a child whose fault is just to be born as a girl.

There are of course several trite reasons for abandoning a child throughout the world; single unwed mothers escaping a stigma, unacceptance of mentally or physically ill children, parents escaping responsibility or poverty stricken families. But, in India we find unacceptance of a girl child as another very common reason for abandoning infants#.

Some prescribe the solution of baby hatches – temporary safe havens for parents to leave their unwanted children in some care until they are adopted by willing foster parents (a system implemented successfully by various other countries). The critics of this system say that while it might stop a few unwilling parents from killing their infants, introducing such a system may also increase abandonment in future#. Some say sensitising children about gender issues from now can act as a long term remedy in building a generation with more liberal thoughts towards women#. But, in the wait of a newer more gender equal generation, we might end up losing many more girls. While the former is a more practical and immediate solution, and the latter a possible thought for the future, we need an attempt to amalgamate both. Not forgetting the peripherals, like educating the present generation and empowering women at the same time, we should look at a more comprehensive approach to this problem.

Educating people about the legal and societal implications of abandoning a child is important. Holding informative camps in cities and villages by non-profit workers and government organisations regularly may help.  But, beyond the middle class, the poor and helpless do not just need education and lectures about how noble it is to raise a girl child. The poor who cannot make their ends meet on a daily basis, fight for survival and they need immediate solutions. And while baby hatches can be a good source of ensuring that we do not have any unwanted deaths of female infants, we should also promote empowerment of women alongside, especially in villages and slums where maximum numbers of female infanticide and abandonment cases are reported.

Raising a boy seems more profitable in future to these parents, as they can earn a better income in a male dominant job market and can bring in dowries during their marriages. In that case we need to create more jobs for women in villages and ensure they get paid the same hourly or daily standards paid to men. It’s equally physically exerting to roll 600 papadums a day (a common occupation for many women in villages and slums), as it is to work in a field. Also, strict dowry laws don’t help (especially when it can be informally carried out under wraps by consenting parties), until women are given equal opportunities to work and earn a living as well. This would enable them to be perceived as less of a burden and more of a gain into any family.

If the government along with various non-profit organisations come up with such comprehensive plans, along with proper implementation focused on both present and future solutions, we might be able to have a few more Kiran Bedis, Kalpana Chawlas, Sarojini Naidus or even mothers of several sons still desiring a daughter in India tomorrow.

By Parama Bal

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