Gendercide -a problem of global proportion
Female infanticide and feticide are serious issues that not only affect the cultural communities where they happen, but also have major spillover national and global consequences.
Female infanticide and gender-biased sex selection can be viewed from the lens of the sex ratio at birth (SRB). This is the comparison of the number of boys born versus the number of girls born in a given period. The World Health Organization states that the natural sex ratio at birth is about 105 boys to every 100 girls. It is best to have equal numbers of men and women in a society, and a few extra boys are needed for balance because men die earlier. When many more boys are being born than girls, it is a sign that sex selection is taking place.
For several decades in China, the most populated country in the world - the SRB’s have been much higher than 105 - exceeding 120 boys for every 100 girls and even climbing as high as 130. India, the second most populous country, has also had SRB’s significantly higher than 105 for decades. The consequence is that in both countries combined—which account for 36% of the world’s population—there are now 80 million extra men. The continent of Asia, which accounts for 60% of the world’s population, also has many other countries with skewed SRB’s.
Given the biological norm of 100 new-born girls to every 105 new-born boys, millions more women should be living among us. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 200 million females are demographically “missing” from the world today. These are girls who should have been born or grown up but were killed by infanticide or selective abortion. This demographic deficit implies that each year 2 - 3 million girls are killed through gendercide. This violence against women causes a mountain of corpses equal to the Jewish Holocaust every 3 years. The euphemism “missing” hides one of the most shocking crimes against humanity.
The Washington Post in a 2018 article has written “Nothing like this has been described in human history. It is curious that such a ubiquitous crime has left so little mark on historical records”. Because infanticide is mostly women’s business, and specifically a poor family’s business, very few first-person accounts are described. It is an unspoken, ignored topic - the darker underbelly of many countries – and it passes silently under the radar. People are now waking up to its magnitude and implications, but it still carries on unchecked.
In my research of female gendercide, an incident stood out starkly. It happened in Cumming, the city adjoining Johns Creek. This is the area where my home is and I have grown up. A live news report was published.
The Forsyth County Sheriff's office in Cumming released a police bodycam video showing a newborn baby found wrapped in a plastic bag. In the video, a deputy is seen tearing open the yellow plastic bag and finding a crying baby with the umbilical cord still attached. It was an Indian baby girl. Residents in a nearby home stumbled upon Baby India when they heard a noise coming from the secluded wooded area. The baby was just hours old when she was discovered. The footage is being released to the public in hopes of receiving information about the possible identity of Baby India and to find closure in the case. Police authorities have taken the baby to a hospital for treatment. She is now "thriving" and is in the care of Georgia Department of Family and Children Services according to the sheriff's office. Police authorities are still looking for the baby's mother.
This sobering incident happened in the United States - considered the most developed country in the world. Not coincidently the cluster of Cumming, Johns Creek, and Suwanee has a large South Asian population - a mix of Indian, Chinese, and Korean. Ironically, this area is one of the wealthiest cities in Georgia, with the median family income of about $150,590. It considered one of the most sought-after places to raise children because of its excellent educational system and has been ranked 16th among the top 50 best cities to live in America by the US Money Magazine rankings of 2019.
It is important to realize that female gendercide is now no longer a problem that is confined to Asia. It has crossed global borders. With immigration, the same communities that believe in gendercide in their home countries also practice it when they come to new ones. Families who have had two previous daughters and who come from communities that traditionally favor sons feel pressure to give birth to a son even if they reside in free societies like the US, UK, and Canada. Heritage and deeply ingrained cultural preferences still permeate the lives of people in prosperous countries and are not easily discarded. Female gendercide is something that is quietly happening in certain communities and being kept secret, but it can be observed in the birth rate of males when compared to females. It will soon begin to have serious consequences for developed nations if the practice continues unchecked. In examining the statistics in countries outside of the Asian subcontinent, disturbing trends emerge.
In the United Kingdom, a census survey of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that the sex ratio of second-born children was heavily biased in favor of boys in Asian communities. The SRB’s were skewed. Further research of the statistics showed that selective abortion of female fetuses was taking place on a large enough scale to account for between 2500 to 4700 “missing girls” within the ethnic groups of Pakistani, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indian, China, and Nepal who were living in England and Wales.
The research from Canada confirms gendercide is happening there as well. Since the 1950’s, there has been a lot of immigration. Boroughs which have mostly Asian people are registering fewer number of girls being born. In Ontario, a 2016 study of the variations in male–female sex ratios among births between Canadian and Indian mothers found that - by the third birth 138 boys were born to Indian-born mothers for every 100 girls, and by the fourth birth, 166 boys were born to every 100 girls. These SRB’s are so distorted that they cannot just be explained by natural causes, because across the globe by comparison, the usual odds of having a boy over a girl are 105 boys for every 100 girls. The reason for these skewed numbers is sex-selective abortion due to cultural norms.
Sex-selective abortion is at work in the U.S. as well. The first child male-female sex ratio is 1.05 for Caucasian-Americans and 1.08 for Asian-Americans – both of which are within normal range. Though the sex ratios of the oldest child of Chinese, Korean, and Indian parents in the US do not suggest female feticide, the ratios for subsequent children show it is happening. In these populations, Columbia University researchers have found that if the first child was a girl, the sex ratio for the second child was 112 favoring males. If the first two children were girls, the ratio for the third was 130 - favoring males. In contrast, the sex ratios for white Americans in the United States stayed normal. What is significant about these statistics is that these SRB’s are comparable to the highly skewed rates that are found in India, China, and Korea.
In 2012, the non-profit organization Live Action conducted a secretly video recorded investigation of abortion clinics in Texas, New York, Arizona, Hawaii, and North Carolina - and found them willing to perform abortions even when the reason openly given was a sex-based preference. Female feticide is taking place regularly in the United States as well. This is partly because there are no laws against prenatal sex determination. This raises ethical questions because unlike their Chinese and Indian counterparts where the law expressly forbids sex-selective abortion, American doctors are left to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to perform these procedures, without any consistent policy guidelines they can consult regarding the ethics of these type of abortions. If like China and India - laws were put in place - the awareness and attitudes about female feticide would shift. Also, if these clinics were so openly willing to perform sex-selective procedures, the magnitude of the actual problem is probably much higher given the large number of abortion clinics around the country.
The sobering reality is that female gendercide has crossed the ocean divide and is happening in developed nations. The preference for boys among many immigrant populations is showing up in gender inequities and will not change without outside intervention. By highlighting the fact that countries outside of Asia are demonstrating a propensity to abort females at high rates, we must conclude that no culture or country is immune to gender discrimination in the form of female feticide.
It is important for all of us, no matter what part of the globe we live in, to be concerned about female infanticide. Female gendercide is an unspoken and ignored topic. It passes under the radar because it is a silent ongoing attrition rather than a sudden eruption of visible violence. It happens in the privacy of the home against a victim who is completely voiceless and defenseless. It constitutes one of the worst forms of human rights violations - where a girl is denied her most basic and fundamental right - “The Right to Life”. In terms of the sheer size of the atrocity, the number of victims claimed by female infanticide exceeds the number of deaths in World War I and World War II combined. It has eliminated more people than all the genocides of the 20th century, malaria, AIDS, and flu epidemics, and it creates a mountain of corpses equivalent to the Jewish Holocaust every three years. It is important for all of us, no matter what part of the globe we live in, to be concerned about female infanticide and to take strong action to prevent it from happening.
The United States has a moral duty as one of the world’s most influential free societies to lead the way in protecting girls and boys from all forms of gender discrimination even if the U.S. never sees “gendercide” on the scale of practices in India and China. As the problem of imbalanced sex ratios grows globally, we must take strong steps to act. The vast numbers show that female gendercide is an issue not just associated with a borders, specific cultures, or races. Rather, this is a human global problem.
We do have the power to help women through small actions. As stated previously, the example of South Korea stands as a beacon of hope. Many years ago, female infanticide was a problem there, and the sex ratio in South Korea shifted dramatically in favor of boys, with 115 boys born for every 100 girls. About the same time, however, South Korea began educating girls and their families, passing equal opportunity laws, and revising its patriarchal family laws to give girls more rights. Attitudes gradually changed, and by 2007, South Korea registered a perfectly normal birth rate of 106 boys for every 100 girls. Although South Korea is still missing women due to its past practices, it points the way for other countries to make similar changes that can eventually create permanent change.
The consequences of gendercide are adverse and far-reaching. In populations with skewed male-female ratios, the very fact that many millions of girls have been deliberately eliminated simply because they would have been female establishes a social reality that colors the whole realm of human relationships. Sex-selective termination tears at the very fabric of liberty by denying equal protection under the law to one-half of the population.
Working to raise awareness about female gendercide is not like waving a magic wand to wish a problem away. It is a complicated multi-factorial issue that has been years in the making and is embedded in societal and cultural consciousness. Working to eradicate it, means not only raising social awareness about the issue, but also actively working to empower the girl-child and ensuring her education and health so that she can survive and thrive. The preference for boys and the gender inequities will not change without outside intervention. Failure to address female gendercide is a failure to address the role of women in society. Gender equality lies at the very heart of each country’s successful progress and development. We must join forces to ensure that sex-selection is understood as discrimination against girls and must end. We need to do our bit to stop female infanticide, no matter where we live. The global crisis of “missing” girls is a tragedy of great lost potential. It is the loss of the girl child in society simply because she happens to be a girl.