The practice of female infanticide in India is causing girls to be victimized either at birth, or later on in life when a shortage of marriageable girls is leaving women vulnerable to “wife sharing,” rape, and sex trafficking.
Reuter’s TrustLaw is reporting that social workers in India are sounding the alarm about the backlash from decades of aborting female babies in the deeply patriarchal culture of India. Especially in rural areas where the ratio of girls to boys is even more skewed than in the larger cities, there has been a rise in the number of rapes, human trafficking, and the emergence of “wife sharing” among brothers.
“We are already seeing the terrible impacts of falling numbers of females in some communities,” says Bhagyashri Dengle, executive director of children’s charity Plan India.
“We have to take this as a warning sign and we have to do something about it or we’ll have a situation where women will constantly be at risk of kidnap, rape and much, much worse.”
In one case, a woman named Munni came to the rural village of Baghpat years ago as a young bride, having no idea that she would be forced to have sex and bear children for her husband’s two brothers who could not find wives.
“My husband and his parents said I had to share myself with his brothers,” Munni told Nita Bahlla of TrustLaw. “They took me whenever they wanted — day or night. When I resisted, they beat me with anything at hand. . . . Sometimes they threw me out and made me sleep outside or they poured kerosene over me and burned me.”
Munni, who has three sons from her husband and his brothers, has not filed a police complaint because of the deep stigma attached to the victims of such crimes, which means there are probably many more women like her in the surrounding villages.
“In every village, there are at least five or six bachelors who can’t find a wife. In some, there are up to three or four unmarried men in one family. It’s a serious problem,” says Shri Chand, 75, a retired police constable.
“Everything is hush, hush. No one openly admits it, but we all know what is going on. Some families buy brides from other parts of the country, while others have one daughter-in-law living with many unwedded brothers.”
Even though female infanticide is illegal in India, and in spite of its enormous cultural ramifications, the practice is continuing. According to a May study published in the British medical journal Lancet, the country’s fetish for boys has resulted in the abortion of 12 million Indian girls over the last three decades — resulting in a skewed child sex ratio of 914 girls to every 1,000 boys in 2011 compared with 962 in 1981.
Those who survive often face a different kind of victimization while growing up. Social activists say more and more young school girls are being raped, abducted and even auctioned off in public to the highest bidder.
Sex trafficking is another horror that Indian women are too often subjected to. The story of Meena Khatun, who was sold into “sex slavery” at the age of 11, is an example of what some girls may be forced to live through. According to a 2007 article in The New York Times, Meena was kidnapped from her village in north India by a trafficker and brought to a 13-girl brothel in the town of Katihar. She was locked into a room with an elderly patron who had purchased her virginity. When he attempted to take it, she cried and fought so hard the owners of the brothel were called in to “teach her a lesson.”
”They beat me mercilessly, with a belt, sticks and iron rods,” Meena recalled.
Every night, she was forced to have sex with 10 to 25 customers. She was also “bred”, a common practice in India’s brothels where the prostitutes are made to produce boys to serve as laborers and girls to become prostitutes. Meena bore two children, a girl and boy, before she managed to escape. Although it took years, she was eventually able to get both of her children released from the brothel.
India has one of the highest child prostitution rates in the world and its brothels are known as the “slave plantations of the 21st century.”
Even though this kind of exploitation of women is illegal in India, crimes such as these go on and, in some areas, are even becoming acceptable because the victims are too afraid to speak up and neighbors don’t want to interfere. Some say the practice of brothers sharing a wife brings benefits such as avoiding the division of family land, and has freed poor families with daughters from having to pay substantial dowries to grooms’ families.
Women’s rights activists say breaking down these deep-rooted, age-old beliefs is a major challenge.
“The real solution is to empower girls and women in every way possible,” Neelam Singh, head of Vatsalya, an Indian NGO working on children’s and women’s issues, told TrustLaw.
“We need to provide them with access to education, healthcare and opportunities which will help them make decisions for themselves and stand up to those who seek to abuse or exploit them.”
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