Today’s U.K. paper The Telegraph declared a very troubling headline:
India ‘most dangerous place in world to be born a girl.’
Females are almost twice as likely as males to die before reaching the age of five, The Telegraph quotes UN figures.
Disturbing and scary don’t even begin to describe such statistics. It’s heartbreaking enough that in many places in India, as well as other parts of the world, poverty and disease and lack of education and warfare or violence have impacted children’s lives so severely.
But to live in a place where it’s twice as dangerous to be born, simply because of your gender, is even more horrifying and unacceptable.
The Telegraph goes on to report:
From 2000 to 2010 there were 56 deaths of boys aged one to five for every 100 female deaths.
Indian campaigners for the rights of girls said the figures reflected widespread discrimination against girls, ranging from neglect to abuse and killing of unwanted female infants.
The figures, compiled by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, emerged as India was plunged into introspection over the case of a two year old girl fighting for her life in hospital after being abandoned by her family and trafficked between several adults before being beaten, bitten and branded by a 14 year old girl. The girl, known as Falak, is suffering from severe chest injuries and brain damage and according to her doctors is unlikely to survive the next 48 hours.
Girls are widely regarded as a burden to Indian families who fear the high costs of their weddings and resent spending money on their education only for them later to leave the home to marry.
Many women abort pregnancies when they believe they will deliver a girl, often under pressure from their husbands or in-laws who favour boys.
Campaigners believe there may have been as many as eight million cases of ‘female foeticide’ in India over the last decade.
This discrimination has driven India’s sex ratio progressively lower.
Census statistics show it fell from 976 girls per 1000 boys in 1961 to 914 in 2011.
But according to campaigners the figures hide the cruelty and neglect suffered by girls kept by their families, in particular from malnutrition and denial of medical treatment.
Ranjana Kumari of the Council for Social Research said Indian mothers breast feed girls for a far shorter period than they do their sons and feed them less well because they fear good nourishment will speed the advent of puberty and the need for a costly wedding. While boys are taken immediately to hospital, sick girls are kept waiting because their families do not have the same interest in their survival.
“They think they need to feed the boy, but there is less desire for the girl to survive, it is common in rural India. Boys are immediately taken to the doctor, but not the girl. She is the last to get the medicine,” she said.
Female infanticide was also a factor in the UN figures, she added. “It has been a practice in central India for a long time, where mothers were made to feed the child with salt to kill the girl child.”
When a girl in the developing world receives 7 years or more of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. And when women earn income, they reinvest 90% of it back into their families, compared to only 30-40% for men.
So why are girls so overlooked around the world? Shockingly little has been done to understand these phenomenons, or the economic impact of educating and empowering girls. Many girls around the world are invisible before their feet even hit the ground; millions are not even recorded at birth. To the world, they simply don’t exist.
That needs to be changed.
I met many such girls in my travels through India over the years, and I tell many of their stories in The Weight of Silence. Stories like Sumitra’s, who came to the orphanage in the middle of the night as a starving 9-month-old whose mother had died. But today, Sumitra is receiving wonderful care and education, and her future looks hopeful.
I have seen, first-hand, so many similar stories that showed to me, in person right before my eyes, what monumental changes can be made with just a little bit of care, effort and money. The one thing that amazed me the most, throughout my journey of writing this book, has been the realization that although the need is great, the answer doesn’t have to be complicated or impossible. I have seen incredible things accomplished from humble beginnings. Truly, all it takes is enough people caring enough to do ONE THING, to take ONE ACTION, to perform ONE SMALL PERSONAL MIRACLE.
Will you be that person?
Meet Anita, a beautiful young girl from India who had to go on a hunger strike just to convince her parents to let her go to school rather than get married.
Must so many girls have to struggle so hard, simply to have an education and a better life? This is a question that Anita asks – but I think it’s a question that girls shouldn’t have to ask. It should be the right of all girls.
Today Anita owns her own business, because of her determination and her ability, finally, to go to college. She was also an inspiration to other girls – after she went to school, all the girls in her village went. You can hear her story, in her own words, below:
Anita asks, what does my story mean to you?
I’m one girl who gets to speak to you. But there are 600 million like me who face little chance.
I’m Anita. I’m a girl. And I’m waiting to hear from you.
The girl effect is about girls.
And moms and dads and villages and towns and countries.
Want to be part of the Girl Effect movement?
If you have a blog, you can participate this week, October 4-11, by writing a blog post for Girl Effect. Visit Tara Mohr’s website to sign up and find out how to become a Girl Effect blogger, and click here to see other bloggers and their posts.
If you join as a blogger, I’d love to hear about it! Please post a link to your blog in the comments below. Thanks, and here’s to Girl Power!