If you had to choose between your daughter and your son, who would you choose? Could you choose? Those impossible questions from the movie "Sophie's Choice" were very real for Mahesh Rajak, a 45-year-old father of two from the town of Jhansi in central India.
For three years his daughter, 16-year-old Babita, suffered from rheumatic heart disease and needed a $7,500 operation to save her life. Rajak is one of the 800 million Indians who make less than $2 a day and could not afford medical help. So he decided to sell his most prized — and only — asset: his 13-year-old son, Devendra.
''I want to get my daughter operated upon, but I have no money. This is why I have put up my son for sale,'' Rajak told NDTV, an Indian news channel, last week.
''I want to live, but my father is a poor man and he has no money for my treatment,'' Babita said.
But today at the Max Devki Devi Heart and Vascular Institute, one of the most expensive hospitals in New Delhi, Babita received her heart surgery, and Rajak did not have to give up his son.
"I have been living with poverty for so many years," Rajak told ABC News through an interpreter. "I was finally able to get her the help she needs today."
The money came from the hospital and NDTV viewers, so touched by the steps he was willing to take to save his daughter that they funded the entire surgery.
"I don't discriminate between my son and my daughter. I was willing to sell myself for the treatment of my daughter if I had to," Rajak said.
In a country with one of the lowest sex ratios at birth on the planet, Rajak's willingness to part from his son for the benefit of his daughter is a revelation, a choice that is the opposite of the one made by family after family, in villages and in cities, every day and every year.
In Uttar Pradesh, the state where Rajak lives, there are 885 girls younger than four for every 1,000 boys in rural areas, according to 2006 census figures, the latest available. In the United States, the average is closer to 1,050 girls for every 1,000 boys.
The ratio in India has decreased dramatically thanks to systematic abortions and neglect. Advocates argue that 6 million fewer girls are alive today in India than there should be.
"In India, you can kill a daughter and get away with it," Dr. Puneet Bendi, an obstetrician in New Delhi who has been outspoken on the issue of female feticide, told ABC News. "We believe there's a genocide on. To have a genocide you have to make killing palatable to people. Here, abortion is an accepted method of birth control. As is feticide."
But Rajak was willing to do anything to save his daughter, including auctioning off his son to the highest bidder. He hoped to sell Devendra as a laborer temporarily, until his daughter was cured and he saved enough money to buy his son back.
It is illegal in India to employ anyone younger than 14 in work that is physically demanding. Yet this country has the highest number of working children in the world, according to Human Rights Watch.