How Much Is Your Daughter Worth?

By the time you finish reading this story, 10 more female fetuses in India will have been aborted.

Aborted by a medical profession that profits from feticide and even infanticide. Aborted by parents who think girls are too expensive. Aborted by a society that does not value them.

In villages and cities across India, parents are aborting girls more often than at any time in history, doctors and children's rights groups say. In some rural areas, girls are also being killed after they are born. It all adds up to a dramatically skewed national ratio of females to males: 954 girls are born for every 1,000 boys, according to the government's 2001 census. In the United States, there are 1,050 newborn girls for every 1,000 newborn boys.

The problem has gotten worse.

26 years ago, there were 962 girls under the age of 6 for every 1,000 boys. Today, that ratio is 927 to 1,000. And it declines as the girls age: for every 1,000 15-to-19-year-old boys, there are only 858 girls.

The numbers, the government admits, reflect "a grim picture of the status of the girl child in the country."

This week, the women's and children's ministry announced the latest plan to reverse the trend. The premise: Pay a family to raise a girl.

Give birth to a daughter, and the family gets cash. Vaccinate her, more cash. Send her to school, feed her, delay her marriage, cash payment for each step.

The staggered payments will be handed out in seven, mostly rural states, beginning at $400 and extending up to an additional $2,500. They will "force the families to look upon the girl as an asset rather than a liability, since her very existence would lead to cash inflow to the family," Renuka Chowdhury, women and children development minister, told reporters earlier this week.

The money is a considerable sum. About half of all Indians live in villages and make less than $1,000 every year, according to the World Bank.

The new scheme's goal is obvious: Stop sex-selective abortions. The government says more than 100,000 girls can be saved every year.

"In India, you can kill a daughter and get away with it," Dr. Puneet Bedi, an obstetrician in New Delhi, tells ABC News. Bedi has been outspoken on the issue of female feticide, saying, "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."

The problem is massive.

The British Journal Lancet estimated that 10 million fetuses or newborn girls were killed in the past 20 years. That's an average of 500,000 a year, 1,370 a day, 57 an hour, almost one every minute.

"People simply don't have daughters. It's a mind-set," Razia Ismail, co-founder of the India Alliance for Child Rights, tells ABC News.

"There is a lot of ritual and tradition involved here. The fact that the boy carries on the family name, the fact that he keeps the land in the family. The idea with girls is that they go away, and so you've lost money."

So often here, families see a baby girl, and they see obligation. The obligation to pay a dowry, which is technically illegal but still widely practiced. The obligation to pay for the wedding.

Additionally, according to Hindu religious traditions that prevail in most of the country, the last rites for the dying are almost always performed by male heirs -- sons, nephews, grandsons but rarely female members of the family.

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