Watering Your Neighbor’s Garden: The Global War On Baby Girls

According to Chinese State media, when local residents first discovered the bodies of 21 babies along the riverbank, they thought they were toys. The babies, who ranged in age from newborns to several months, had hospital tags linking them back to the Affiliated Hospital of Jining Medical University, a city in eastern China.

It is believed that the families of the babies had paid hospital staff to get rid of the bodies, but the staff dumped the bodies in the river instead. The hospital has confirmed its involvement, and two of its medical personnel have been suspended.

The Huffington Post reports that video footage showed one of the bodies stuffed in a yellow plastic bag marked as “medical waste”. Fetuses were also amongst the bodies.

Where Did All The Baby Girls Go? Image Credit: The Economist

Although the number of girls or boys was not reported, it is clear that this latest incident is proof female infanticide, a phenomenon which continues to plague China, is not slowing down.

Despite the ban on sex-selective abortions in the country, cultural preference for sons leads to more baby girls being terminated than boys in China. In fact, the practice is so common, particularly in rural areas, that it has led to the distortion of China’s sex ratio at birth with 119 males born for every 100 females, compared to 107 to 100 as the rates in industrialized nations.

In January of this year, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) released a report stating that the undervaluing of baby girls would mean that in ten years China will have about 30 to 40 million more men aged 19 years and younger than they would have women.

The Economist calls this phenomenon a “worldwide war on baby girls,” describing the unintentional side-effect of China’s one child policy as gendercide. But the article also goes onto suggest that because of the abnormally distorted sex ratios at birth in the country, more than just the one-child policy has to be at play here, pointing to the role of poverty and ignorance as additional contributing factors.

And this “war” is not just confined to the borders of China.

Next door in India, the situation is equally bad if not worse for baby girls. In fact, cultural beliefs that a son will take care of his parents when they are old versus a daughter who leaves to join her husband’s family, is reflected in the common saying that “raising a  daughter is like watering your neighbor’s garden.”

A Global War On Baby Girls? Graph Source: United Nations

Sadly technology has only aided this problem. Ultra-sound scanning and other ways of finding out the sex of your unborn child dramatically increased the practice with doctors even placing ads promoting sex-selective abortions, encouraging parents to use technology to get rid of female fetuses.

Despite sex-selective abortions being banned in both China and India in the late 1990’s, the practice continues.

What does it day about the global status of women if in this day and age we are seeing baby girls vanish around the world at such alarming rates? What does it say if the advancement in our technology is aiding these efforts? It shows us that in many parts of the world, a son is still viewed as an investment, while a daughter is considered a burden.

More importantly, it shows us that cultures are still reinforcing this idea not only in the minds of the men in their countries, but also in the minds of women.  It is reported that more mothers in developing countries want sons over daughters approxiametly ten to one. In China, midwives even charge more for the delivery of a son.

Increasing the status of women and girls around the world has never been more urgent. In fact, if the practice of killing baby girls makes anything clear to us, it is that there is still not enough value placed on the lives of women and girls, not even enough to deem them worthy of being born.  Empowerment of women and girls is not only key, but critical.

Today, 21 bodies of babies, most likely baby girls, were found. Tomorrow that number could be 21 million.

*This post of mine was also published on The Huffington Post.

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