Dec. 15, 2006 -- Ten million girls have beenkilled by their parents in India in the past 20 years, eitherbefore they were born or immediately after, a governmentminister said on Thursday, describing it as a "nationalcrisis".
A UNICEF report released this week said 7,000 fewer girlsare born in the country every day than the global average wouldsuggest, largely because female foetuses are aborted after sexdetermination tests but also through murder of new borns.
"It's shocking figures and we are in a national crisis ifyou ask me," Minister for Women and Child Development RenukaChowdhury told Reuters.
Girls are seen as liabilities by many Indians, especiallybecause of the banned but rampant practice of dowry, where thebride's parents pay cash and goods to the groom's family.
Men are also seen as bread-winners while social prejudicesdeny women opportunities for education and jobs.
"Today, we have the odd distinction of having lost 10million girl children in the past 20 years," Chowdhury told aseminar in Delhi University.
"Who has killed these girl children? Their own parents." In some states, the minister said, newborn girls have beenkilled by pouring sand or tobacco juice into their nostrils.
"The minute the child is born and she opens her mouth tocry, they put sand into her mouth and her nostrils so shechokes and dies," Chowdhury said, referring to cases in thewestern desert state of Rajasthan.
"They bury infants into pots alive and bury the pots. Theyput tobacco into her mouth. They hang them upside down like abunch of flowers to dry," she said.
"We have more passion for tigers of this country. We havepeople fighting for stray dogs on the road. But you have awhole society that ruthlessly hunts down girl children."
According to the 2001 census, the national sex ratio was933 girls to 1,000 boys, while in the worst-affected northernstate of Punjab, it was 798 girls to 1,000 boys.
The ratio has fallen since 1991, due to the availability ofultrasound sex-determination tests.
Although these are illegal they are still widely availableand often lead to abortion of girl foetuses.
Chowdhury said the fall in the number of females had costone percent of India's GDP and created shortages of girls insome states like Haryana, where in one case four brothers hadto marry one woman.
Economic empowerment of women was key to change, she said. "Even today when you go to a temple, you are blessed with'May you have many sons'," she said.
"The minute you empower them to earn more or equal (tomen), social prejudices vanish."
The practice of killing the girl child is more prevalentamong the educated, including in upmarket districts of NewDelhi, making it more challenging for the government, theminister said.
"How do we tell educated people that you must not do it?And these are people who would visit all the female deities andpray for strength but don't hesitate to kill a girl child," shesaid.