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Gendercide at Home and Abroad

July 17, 2012

Gendercide at Home and Abroad

Those fighting against sex selective abortions are voices crying in the wilderness.

On April 22, 2012, Chen Guancheng, a blind Chinese civil rights activist escaped house arrest after years of torture and abuse for speaking out against the Chinese government’s one-child policy and forced sex selective abortions and sterilizations. U.S. and international officials were quick to condemn the Chinese government’s persecution of Chen and eventually the Chinese government acquiesced to international pressure, granting Chen a visa to leave China and continue his law studies here in the United States. Chen’s plight landed him on the front page of the New York Times, the cover of the Economist, and other newspapers and magazines throughout the world, while he was carefully shepherded to the U.S. with the support of the Obama administration and the State Department.

Only weeks after Mr. Chen landed in the U.S., the pro-life sting operation group, Live Action, released a series of video footage of Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the United States actively and knowingly participating in sex-selective abortions. The videos spread rapidly online and public outcry was such that it sparked a Congressional debate on whether or not to ban sex-selective abortions in the United States. When a bill was introduced that would make it illegal to knowingly perform an abortion due to the sex or gender of the child, the Obama administration—that had just weeks earlier lauded Chen’s activism in China—came out in opposition of the bill and threw its support behind Planned Parenthood under the banner of so-called “women’s health.”

The bill, which needed a two-thirds majority vote in Congress, was defeated.

The practice of sex-selective abortions is a relatively new issue in the United States, but a practice that has become widespread in places like India and China, both patriarchal societies that typically prefer boys to girls. A new documentary film, It’s a Girl, produced by Shadowline Films, aims to expose this gruesome, yet common practice, which has led to what the United Nations has estimated as the loss of 200 million “missing” girls.

Unfortunately, as this documentary evidences, it’s not just that these girls are missing—it’s that they have been aborted, or killed after birth, simply based on the fact that they are girls. As the tagline of the film suggests, the phrase “It’s a girl” has become the deadliest three words in the world. Today more females have been aborted or killed than the combined total of all the genocides of the 20th century. Hence, the practice of sex-selective abortions is now commonly being referred to a “gendercide”—the systematic elimination of a particular group of people—in this case, girls.

“Rearing a daughter is like watering a neighbor’s tree,” goes a local Telugu saying in India. Meanwhile, another popular Hindi expression claims, “A daughter is a burden on her father’s head.” Or put more bluntly by an Indian woman interviewed in the documentary that aborted or strangled eight of her children after birth, “Why keep girls when raising them would be difficult?” In India, the prospects of raising a girl seem bleak for many families, and for the most part, girls are only viewed as an eventual expense for the mother and father. Due to Indian cultural traditions, parents of girls are expected to offer large dowries in exchange for a husband with nothing in return. Moreover, Indian boys are expected to care and provide for their children later in life, whereas Indian girls are typically separated from their parents after they are married off.

In 1961, the Indian government outlawed the practice of the dowry, but this has yielded very little change or protection to women, as it is deeply ingrained in the local culture. Today, over 100,000 women are killed each year in India in what are known as “dowry deaths,” where husbands upset by not receiving a large enough dowry from their bride’s family, become violent towards their wives and in many cases, brutally kill them.

Similarly, It’s a Girl, chronicles the case of Dr. Mitu Khurana, now a prominent Indian activist against female gendercide, whose in-laws bribed a local doctor to perform an illegal ultrasound that revealed she was pregnant with twin girls, subjecting her to further violence from her husband and in-laws and pressure to abort.

While the Indian government has also outlawed ultrasounds to determine the sex of the child, most doctors are willing to accept bribes from men eager to find out if their wife is carrying a girl, and if so, subsequently arrange for an abortion.

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