Saving India's girls.

Author:Fernandes, Ashley K.

India is all the rage these days. From high fashion to high tech to the movies made in "Bollywood," India has finally made it to the world stage. The coverage of Everything India is so ubiquitous that one is tempted to pass by India-related articles and move on to new global frontiers. Yet a recent piece in the New York Times--"Indian Gov't to Raise Abandoned Girls," February 18, 2007--is one that readers should note. This is not an article about the flashy new middle class in India but a story about the future of some of the world's most vulnerable persons in an immense and overwhelming country.

The article relates that the Indian government plans--in an effort to stem the tide of sex-selective abortions--to set up a series of orphanages in regional health districts to take in and raise unwanted baby girls. While both India and the world acknowledge that sex selection is a crisis of epic proportions, one that has already seriously tipped the gender balance to favor boys, the laws to ban the practice in India have so far been ineffective.

Girls in India have, for many hundreds of years, been seen as a severe economic burden on families who must provide a dowry for the girl at the time of marriage. In addition, there is a certain elevated social status afforded to having a boy (particularly in the thousands of villages of India) that reveals the low value placed on females in many parts of the country. These are not attitudes that are so easily whisked away with mere statutes. And, even where laws exist, the will to enforce them has been lacking. The Times reports that only one physician has ever been convicted under the national laws banning sex-selective abortion, which were passed in 1994.

India's orphanage plan is called the cradle scheme. According to Renuka Chowdhury, the minister of state for women and child development, it has already been funded in the coming national budget. Precise figures on cost and a time frame for set-up are lacking; nevertheless, it is a beautiful example of how--in a world that prizes stark efficiency, the supremacy of personal autonomy, and the purported "rationality of utilitarianism"--a country of a billion people can take a collective stand to protect the most vulnerable in its midst. India is by no means perfect; Chowdhury herself, obsessed with population control, once sought to ban women and men with more than two children from contesting Parliamentary and state elections. There are many more in India...

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