The Unfortunate Plight of India's Daughters
Whether one lives in an affluent neighborhood or a poverty-stricken slum, most people in India have one thing in common; the desire to have a son. This desire comes at all costs and has forced countless Indian families to do the unthinkable; kill or abandon their own daughters. In fact, so many fetuses were being aborted as a result of gender, that the government outlawed the practice of offering ultrasounds for the purpose of gender identification. Many doctors, however, circumvent that law and reveal the baby’s gender to parents, allowing many to abort otherwise healthy fetuses. For those that carry pregnancies to term, daughters are often slowly starved to death. Hospitals have malnutrition wards that are full of girls under the age of six who have been neglected by their families.
In India, the patriarch eats first, followed by his sons. Once the men have eaten their fill, the mother may partake, followed by her daughters, who are only able to consume what, if anything, is left over. Often, there are mere scraps, and in poorer families, there may be nothing. Consequently, many young girls are being allowed to die before they even reach their sixth birthdays. This is true even in cities such as Punjab and Haryana, two of the more wealthy Indian cities in the north, where families can afford to feed everyone, but choose not to adequately nourish their daughters. This shunning and slow starvation by even the wealthiest families demonstrates the attitude toward devaluing girls is so pervasive that even when a son is not needed to guarantee financial security in old age, boys are still preferred. Selective abortion rates are higher among wealthy families as well, because they have the means to travel abroad in order to obtain sonograms that determine a baby’s gender if they cannot find a physician in India who will conduct one. Selective abortion rates are so high that it is estimated India has lost over 10 million girls in the past 20 years. The irony is that in cities where the male to female ratio is most skewed, men are having difficulty finding wives. Politicians in Punjab and Haryana have even campaigned on the issue of finding brides for the overwhelming number of men who have been unable to do so.
Statistics show that in the poorer, rural area of Morena, only 825 girls for every 1000 boys reach their sixth birthday, yet the birth rate is 940 girls for every 945 boys. The Indian government has acknowledged the problem and has instituted incentives for families that have daughters. These include free meals and free education. Poor families have a chance to receive hundreds of dollars for every few years of school that daughters complete and over $2,250 upon high school graduation, yet most families continue to opt for killing or abandoning their daughters instead of feeding, clothing and educating them. In fact, India’s minister has encouraged parents to abandon rather than kill their infant daughters. Consequently, orphanages are overflowing with baby girls. The ratio of girls to boys in orphanages is 4:1. Daughters are found abandoned at orphanages, police stations, public restrooms and countless other public and private locations. Another striking difference between girls and boys in orphanages is that the girls are typically of good health, whereas boys are often disabled or in poor health. Few families would abandon their sons.
Women in maternity wards have been interviewed about this situation. Most indicate that they have a strong preference for sons. Sons are considered more valuable because unlike in western societies, in India it is the sons who take care of their parents in old age. In addition, sons inherit their family’s wealth, yet it is the bride’s family that is expected to pay a substantial dowry to the groom’s family to cement a marriage contract. In the mid-90s, campaigns to abort daughters used slogans like, “Spend 3000 rupees now, save 300,000 later.” Women weep with despair upon learning that they have borne daughters and often, the daughters are presented to the mothers wrapped in dirty rags instead of clean, comfortable blankets, reinforcing the notion that girls are of little value. Mother-in-laws also have considerable influence over their daughter-in-law’s attitudes about bearing girls. They often berate and humiliate the women for giving birth to girls and insist that they become pregnant again soon after in order to increase their chances of bearing a son. Women in rural areas who bear sons are pampered and taken care for a month following the birth whereas women who have borne daughters are expected to return to the fields within three days. Such societal practices reinforce the notion that mothers should be ashamed for bearing daughters and consequently, they are able to overcome the natural maternal instinct and ultimately abandon or neglect their own children.
One of the only ways for a girl to escape life in an orphanage is through the international adoption process. Families who select a child for adoption pay a maintenance fee to the orphanage that helps to offset the costs of caring for the children. Most then go on to better lives abroad. International adoption is almost exclusively their only option, as Indian families will not adopt orphaned girls. The process can be cumbersome, though the government has been working to ease regulations and facilitate an easier path toward finding suitable homes for India’s girls.
Couples interested in adopting a child from India will have an easier time finding a daughter than a son. Many children are perfectly healthy and simply awaiting good homes. Many others are malnourished and suffering from a host of medical and psychological problems that have resulted from spending months or years in under-funded public orphanages. Failure to thrive can be an issue for many children who, otherwise healthy, responded poorly to institutionalization. Prior to considering adoption, potential parents should consider the needs of the child. Speak with adoption counselors, social workers and orphanage staff. In some cases, the desire to place children with loving families overrides the responsibility to disclose the entire truth of a child’s medical and social needs. Be sure that you know the right questions to ask and that you insist on visiting your potential new son or daughter in the orphanage. These children, like all children, deserve the opportunity to be placed in homes in which they will be loved and cared for unconditionally and in spite of whatever physical or mental health issues they may have.
Indian Adoption Resources
Resources for successful adoption abound, but it is important to do your homework. For every reputable organization there is likely at least one other that is disreputable. Before you invest your heart, money and hope in a child, be sure you research the agency you have chosen. Some agencies have reputations for being untruthful and failing to disclose serious medical and psychological issues that exist within the children they are trying to place. There are often discrepancies between what an adoptive parent considers to be "healthy" or to be "special needs" and what the agency might consider these to be. In order to assure that you are able to provide the most loving, stable home to your new child, you must feel confident that you have all the information available that allows you to make this decision. The following are a few resources for Indian adoptions that were available on the internet. Prospective parents should engage in a vetting process before selecting one. Obtain references, do your research, inquire with social workers and others that may have first hand knowledge of these organization's practices, ethics and reputations.
Best of luck.
Indian Adoption Resources
- India Program l Journeys of the Heart Adoption Services
- India Adoption - International, Agencies, Programs, Information, Costs -
- ICHILD NRI (non resident Indian) India Adoption Information
ICHILD: India, adoption, information, support and resources
- India Adoption Adopting from India
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