The year 2011 could well be the year of the girl child who almost made it. In a depressing start to the year, three girls were found abandoned — two newborns and a seven-year-old — and one dead after being dumped alive in an open drain within hours of her birth. The dead baby still had placenta wrapped around her, indicating a swift transit from her mother’s womb to the cold slush of an open drain.
Horror stories of baby girls being abandoned are not new. What is new is that all the girls being abandoned were in Delhi, the capital of the new, progressive India.
This callousness finds echo in other parts of the country. According to the 2001 census, there are 927 girls for 1,000 boys alive at the age of 5 years, but that was a decade ago before ultrasound machines used for sex-determination of the unborn child were few and far between.
The 2011 Census is expected to throw up numbers that are far lower, with data from the Sample Registration System (SRS) 2006-08 already indicating the general trend: it reported 906 girls per 1,000 boys.
Obsession with sons makes states such as Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan lead the inhuman pack. While the affluent choose to go for illegal sex-selective abortion, the poor abandon or kill newborns.
Over the past three months, 20 girls have been found abandoned in fields and dry wells in the Shekhawati region comprising the Jhunjhunu and Sikar districts in northeast Rajasthan. The sex ratio of the two districts reflects this: in Jhunjhunu, sex ratio is 839, down from 863, while in Sikar it is 827, down from 885 in 2001.
And with mobile ultrasound machines — some so small that they can fit into your pocket — making it possible for radiologist to do home visits, baby girls die before being born. In villages, women queue up in the hot desert sun for hours waiting for a “mobile” ultrasound machine that periodically visits their villages. Since sex-selection is illegal, word is spread through informal channels and word of mouth.
“So common are reports of infanticide and abandonment here that there is no outrage. It does not even make it as a news brief in the local newspapers,” said activist Sabu George, who has worked to prevent female foeticide for 25 years. Rajasthan’s overall sex was 876 per 1,000 boys in 2006-08 (SRS), down from 909 in 2001.
Doctors in district hospitals in states such as, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh routinely find orphans in their wards. “When the staff is not fighting disease, they are doubling as foster parents. Parents usually disappear right after being told they’ve had a baby girl. They cannot be traced because they give false addresses and, at times, even walked way with their medical records,” says Dr K. P. Kushwaha, consultant paediatrician at Gorakhpur Medical College.
“Earlier, only illegitimate children were abandoned, but now more girls are left behind than boys. It’s obviously a convenient way to get rid of an unwanted girl child. We get reports of one or two abandoned newborns every week,” said Prof Radhey Mohan Misra, who runs an NGO called Samarpan Santhsan for children’s rights in Varanasi.
The only glimmer of hope here is that the Government’s clamp down on sex-determination is working, leading to the birth of more girls. One in seven couples are childless and more than eager to give the little Orphan Annies a loving home.