Louise Allain, 27th November, 2013
“A country where mothers are killed for giving birth to baby girls can’t be called an ethical society”
Under the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act of 1994, gender testing is illegal in India. Despite this, an estimated half a million female fetuses are aborted each year, which is leading to a 'missing generation' of women in India and a growing concern about the impact of this cultural preference for males in Indian Society.
For Pediatrician, Dr Mitu Khurana, gender testing is a subject that she is passionately and courageously opposing. Dr Mitu is making legal history by taking her husband to court for illegally procuring a gender test on her pregnancy - he found out she was expecting twin girls.
Khurna spoke to Hazel Chandler Al-Jazeera's Witness documentary programme: “When the doctor said I was carrying twins I was very happy. But the moment we entered into his house my in-laws were mourning and they said we can’t bring up two girls,”
What followed was pressure and abuse from her in-laws and her husband, who later abandoned her, to terminate the pregnancy. Subsequently Dr Mitu had the bravery to go to term with the twins, and also had parents to whom she could turn, who were fully supportive of her decision.
"I could die with them, but I could not bring myself to kill my own daughters." says Mitu.
Hazel Chandler says that even though these abortions are illegal it was almost impossible to get women to talk to Witness about their experiences, even if she promised to hide their identities. Dr Khurana was one of the brave few who would share her story.
So far 56 women have been killed in Pakistan this year for giving birth to a girl, not a boy.
“A country where mothers are killed for giving birth to baby girls can’t be called an ethical society,” said IA Rehman at a Symposium earlier this week for International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women. Between January 2012 and September 2013 there have been 90 acid attacks on women, 72 cases of burning caused by other means, 491 cases of domestic violence, 344 cases of gang rape and 835 cases of violence. "Young girls are being raped in Pakistan and all we do is shout rather than do anything practical" he said.
In an analysis produced in 2011, Dr Therese Hesketh of the UCL Centre for International Health and Development highlighted the potentially 'disastrous' consequences of growing gender imbalances across countries such as India, China and South Korea. The result is to drive up the sex industry and human trafficking in these regions.
The exploitation and abusive horrors committed against women was pointed out in 2005 when the DCAF (Democratic Control of Armed Forces) published a research document entitled Women in an insecure World. It outlined the 'honour killings' the forced marriages, sexual abuse and also the effects of female gendercide in the world.
"The number of the ‘missing’ women, killed for gender-related reasons, is of the same order of magnitude as the estimated 191 million human beings who have lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of all the conflicts and wars of the 20th century—which was, with two world wars and numerous other murderous conflicts, the most violent period in human history so far. A sustained demographic ‘deficit’ of 100-200 million women implies that each year 1.5-3 million girls and women are killed through gender related violence." (DCAF, Geneva, 2005)
So with the reality of 200 million missing girls, what is the way forward? The symposium in Lahore coincided with a youth conference by the United Nations Girl's Educative Initiative who were discussing the reality of promoting peace in Pakistan. But with a lack of educational opportunities, particularly in rural areas, the reality is that this systematic, ruthless bias for male offspring is an enormous task for human rights' groups to tackle.
Possibly this is summed up in Provincial Assembly Member Sardar Waqas Hassan Mokal opening words to the Lahore youth conference when he gave his definition of peace -
“It is an environment that allows individuals to achieve their potential,” he said. “Unfortunately we in Pakistan do not have that environment.”
In order to try and highlight this horrific problem, independent film makers have created a short visual entitled: 'It's a Girl'. It relates the stories of women who are abused and pressurised to kill their own female offspring and those who would do anything to save their daughters.