DALLAS, September 12, 2013 ― Chairman Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, highlighted the issue of gendercide in India at Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing Wednesday. “By shining a light on what is happening in India with its missing girls, we hope to move toward a world where every woman is valued and respected because of her intrinsic dignity, and where every child is welcomed regardless of his or her sex,” Smith said.
Many of the concerns and information presented at the hearing are also shown in the documentary “It’s a Girl,” a film that explores the cultural and political environment in India and China that has resulted in gendercide—the deliberate and systematic destruction of girls.
In congressional testimony, Science Magazine contributing editor Mara Hvistendahl noted, “Sex-selective abortion following ultrasound scans is by far the most common means of sex-selection worldwide.” The advent of ultrasound to identify a baby’s gender in the womb has lead to increased targeting of girls through sex-selection abortion.
The statistics cited in “It’s a Girl” are staggering. Dr. Sabu George, a public health advocate and Fellow, Intercultural Resouces, Delhi states in the film, “Today, India and China eliminate more girls than the number of girls born in the United States every year.” As many as 200 million girls are missing, according to one U.N. estimate.
Dr. Puneet Bedi, an Obstetrician, Gynecologist at Idraprastha Apollo Hospital in Delhi notes that sex selection abortion, or female feticide, has caused a great increase in the number of girls killed. In the documentary, he says throughout history female infanticide occurred at a much smaller level, no more than four percent of baby girls were killed. Abortion has changed that, he says, “But now in modern societies like India and China, twenty, twenty-five, thirty percent of girls are being killed before birth.”
The film documents the story of Dr. Mitu Khurana, a woman who was pressured, abused, and eventually forced her to get a sex-determination ultrasound against her will. When the ultrasound showed her to be pregnant with twin girls, her husband and his mother abused and imprisoned Khurana to pressure her to abort her children. She escaped and had her daughters two months prematurely.
Despite the illegal of her husband, as well as the doctor who performed the ultrasound, government officials have not responded to her demands for justice. India has laws against sex determining ultrasound and sex selection abortions, but they do little to curb the practice. Khurana has become an activist calling for an end to the practice of female feticide, despite facing threats and condemnation, including a threat of rape by a doctor at the hospital where the illegal ultrasound occurred.
The documentary points out that not only sex-selection abortions, but infanticide and child abandonment have grown, particularly among poorer families. Additionally, the film explores dowry death, child trafficking, child abandonment, the struggles of Chinese couples who are illegally pregnant, and forced abortion and forced sterilization in China.
In China, the threat isn’t only a cultural preference for boys, but the government coercive birth control policy. Forced abortions and forced sterilizations, as well as crippling monetary penalties are used to enforce the one child policy. Paid government informants turn in families who are pregnant with “unauthorized” children, and mothers can be forcibly aborted up to the ninth month of pregnancy. The Chinese government boasts of performing 13 million abortions a year. Many of these are forced, according to Mark Shan, an analyst with Women’s Rights Without Frontiers.
“It’s a Girl” is not just a film about heartbreaking statistics. It also brings stories of heroes and hope. Not only Khurana, but other families go to extraordinary lengths to save their daughters, including one young unmarried Chinese woman who bucks societal convention and the right to have her own “authorized child” in order to adopt an abandoned girl. These stories offer light in overwhelmingly dark circumstances.
The targeted killing of girls has resulted in a disparate ratio between men and women. This has lead to increased child trafficking and sexual abuse, issues which are garnering wider awareness. However, the root cause of these crimes is gendercide, which in the past has not received as much attention politically or culturally.
“The issue of gendercide is gathering steam,” says Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers and featured in the film. She notes “It’s a Girl” has been shown to the European Parliament, British Parliament and the U.S. Congress, and other legislative bodies are interested in screening it. “I believe it’s only a matter of time before these bodies issue a statement condemning the selective termination of pregnancies based on gender.”
“Gendercide is happening in many places all over the world, including the United States.” Littlejohn notes. Women’s Rights Without Frontiers has a campaign in China called “Save a Girl” where individuals can be involved in helping Chinese parents resist killing their daughters.
“It’s a Girl” can be seen in screenings sponsored by various groups, such as a Beltway Right to Life event being held next week in Northern Virginia. It is scheduled to be released on DVD and through iTunes on September 25, the 33rd anniversary of China’s One Child Policy.
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