Not a country for little girls?

10 Oct

Read it on my TOI blog, Freeze Frame.

Baby Ahuti died of cardiac arrest on Monday. But that was not the real reason of her death. Her little heart could not bear the trauma of her battered little body. She had “multiple skull fractures, broken ribs, a dislocated neck and bruised limbs”. The parents had claimed that her injuries were from a fall. Though the doctors investigating her case had surmised that the three month old’s head may have been bashed hard against something hard, perhaps even the floor, causing her soft skull to fracture. Her twin sister had evidently died under mysterious circumstances, when she was just a 12 days old.

Another child, Tanaaz Sayyed, aged two was reported dead just two months prior to this. Cause of death, ‘suffering relentless physical abuse at the hands of her parents’.

The year started with baby Falak succumbing to her injuries. She had been abandoned with ‘a fractured skull, broken arms, and human bite marks all over her body and cheeks that had been branded by a hot iron’. Baby Shirin, baby Afreen and many more just added to the list of girls who were brought to hospitals around the country this year, battered, bludgeoned, bruised and left to die.

The irony of the situation is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. These are cases that have been reported because the culprits have gotten caught or because their brutality was too many to ignore by the purveyors of health or the law. The truth is  “India lacks rigid and streamlined guidelines to detect, diagnose, treat and solve child battering because the family is supposed to be sacrosanct and private and external factors are not allowed to intervene even in situations that might end in tragedy. There is no specific law under which parents can be taken into custody on suspense…. in India, there is no specific law under which parents battering their children could be booked unless there was concrete proof of the crime”.

In the comfort of my home, a simple Google search fills up pages with data; data on how people killed their infants because they were girls.

The pages bring back stories I would hear from my grandmother, stories from her childhood and before. There was a time when the news of a girl born in a family was never shared with the world outside. What would later be shared was the news that the child was still born or died of natural causes minutes after their birth. The little girl, in reality, instead of seeing the light of day would have had salt forced down her tiny throat till she choked. Severe dehydration would eventually lead to hypernatremia leading to brain edema and coma. Her frail body would then be anointed with chandan, wrapped in muslin and buried in keeping with Hindu funeral rites.

I’m once again back to the multiple browser windows open in front of me. One page leads on to more pages, one story links to many more. Another little girl killed at birth or within the first few months joins a list of many who have gone before her. Pages fill up with reports, news stories about little girls badly beaten up, sexually assaulted, abandoned or left to die. Countless stories on why this was never a country for little girls and how the future still looks bleak.

In one related report I chance upon Gita Aravamudan, author of the book Disappearing Daughters (2007), who writes that since traditional methods of female infanticide (feeding the child salt, drowning the child in a bucket of water) could be traced back, people adopt more inhuman and novel ways of killing their baby. Wrapping a child in wet towels right after birth to induce pneumonia, feeding a new-born alcohol to induce diarrhoea are common practice….

But why does she have to die again and again? The answer is not that simple. The SUB GROUP REPORT on the Girl Child in the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012), by Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India reveals disturbing trends: “The sharp decline in female sex ratios over the years suggests that female foeticide and infanticide might be primarily responsible for this phenomenon followed by general neglect of the girl child The sex ratio has been dwindling even in States like Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat which are supposed to be economically prosperous. Female infanticide has been reported from parts of Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The magnitude of girl child mortality is reflected from the fact that every year, about 12 million girls are born in India; a third of these girls die in the first year of  their life; three million, or 25 per cent, do not survive to see their fifteenth birthday. The child mortality rate between 0-4 years for girl child is 20.6%, two percent more than that of boys (18.6%).”

Table: The Human Development Index of the Girl Child in India:

Indicator Males Females Persons
Population (0-6) 81,911,041 75,952,104 157,863,145
Sex Ratio (0-6) 927/1000
IMR (April 2006) 58
MMR 407
Child Mortality Rate (0-4) (2000) 18.6% 20.6% 19.5%
Anemia (15-19) 56%
Literacy rate 75.26 53.67 64.84
Gross Drop Out Rate
Class 1-5 35.85 33.72 34.89
Class I-VIII 52.28 53.45 52.79
Class I-X 60.72 64.97 62.58

What is all the more alarming is that a significant number of studies have conclusively shown that there is little correlation between the number of such incidents with the lack of education or wealth – the common belief – and that is true for most parts of the country. But if this is indeed the case, what will make such atrocities stop? How can we enlighten the people of this country that our girls deserve better; that they are to be treasured, nurtured and cherished and not be the subjects of such heinous crimes? Is the solution in public awareness campaign, demonstrations, public interest litigations or in developing a water-tight legal structure that seeks to make an example of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes? Whatever the case may be, may better sense prevail and let’s get down to setting things right, sooner than later, or we will have very few girls to call our own.

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Posted by on October 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


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