The Three Deadliest Words in the World: It’s a Girl

The woman in this picture has just related to a film crew how she killed her newborn daughter by strangulation. She killed eight of her newborn daughters, in fact, and can lead you to the tree-shaded plot of ground where she has buried all of them. The earth is rich there, rounded and fertile. The mound where the infants lie rises over them in a gentle slope, like the swell of mother-flesh.

This woman is not unusual in her Indian village. She and her neighbors explain through a strange kind of laughter the myriad ways that they have dispatched their female children. One of the most common is to dampen a piece of cloth—large enough to swaddle the child in—then lay the wet fabric over the baby’s face, so that she can’t breathe. Other options are to expose the child to the elements or to place her in a box near the river and walk away.

Not only are these practices common in India, they’re common throughout many countries and across many cultures. It’s estimated that as many as 200 million girls are missing from the world’s population due to the practice of gendercide, the culturally-based killing of a child (overwhelmingly female) on the basis of its sex.

Now, detailed news of this widespread custom comes by way of a chilling new documentary: It’s a Girl, produced and directed by filmmaker Evan Grae Davis.

Davis traveled to India and China, where the practice is prevalent, to document the effect this particular barbarity has had on the culture at large. Interviewing village women, social workers, and activists, he exposes the root causes of the custom: poverty, of course, but also a cultural system that values males over females.

In such societies, boys provide for the family and care for the elderly; girls must be married off by way of an expensive dowry that many parents cannot afford. So the system in turn breeds a culture of death, giving perverse birth to all sorts of attendant crimes.

Infanticide of female children fresh from the womb is but a matter of chronological distinction from the feticide that takes place within it.

Girls conceived in areas with technological advancements are discovered—hunted does not seem too strong a word—by way of portable sonograms, administered at the insistence of mothers, in-laws, and husbands, who demand to know whether the baby is worth keeping, meaning a boy (such practices go on in America too, as The Economist reports). If not, an abortion follows, often disregarding the mother’s wishes.

Further, a woman giving birth to girls risks what is called a dowry death, retribution against her own family for what is seen as the perpetration of fraud upon her husband.

Of course, forced abortions by way of Chinese government intervention are the norm. One segment of the film focuses on mothers there who have fled periodic sweeps by Orwellian enforcement squads, intent on implementing the country’s one-child policy.

Evil is spawned from this distortion of nature. China, self-depleted of girls, has predictably found a need for them, to provide sexual partners for its sons. As a result, human trafficking is sharply on the rise. Girl children are kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film interviews a mother whose daughter was stolen, one of countless children victimized by the warped idea that a baby must justify her existence.

The economic causes mentioned in the film are undoubtedly major parts of the problem. Many of these people are poverty-stricken, and many are bound within a system that commodifies life to an extreme degree.

The culture plays a role, yes, but only because the culture finds boys more valuable and less costly than girls—bringing things squarely back to the economic.

Unsurprisingly, the perpetrators of these crimes even have their apologists: A girl’s life in these places is cruel and short. Better to end it at the outset (besides, there are too many of their kind in the first place, seems the implication).

But horrible as the film shows such practices to be, is it all that different from any system in which our existence depends upon our worth, and our worth upon our cost? If survival relies upon either how much I can manipulate a person’s value (such as genetic engineering to produce only healthy, blue-eyed, blonde babies with heady IQs and DNA maps that project for standard height, weight, and athletic prowess) or upon how much I can get for a person’s parts (such as organ-farming in a clean, hermetic place, far from view, that violates no one’s delicate sensibilities), then where’s the distinction?

Sometimes that cost is only a matter of inconvenience. There are others who would happily pay the price. But I am told by international adoption agencies that such countries frown upon outsourcing their children. “How does it look,” the nations say, “to be giving them to others?” Better to deal with it all in-house.

It is a damnable lie not to call this business what it is.

These girls are being murdered at every stage of life, and those who survive are being subjected to every form of indignity. However tragic the poverty that motivates such a thing, the fact remains. To deny it, to be too uncomfortable to look at it, to be too embarrassed to see it, is to be complicit in it.

There is no problem so great that this kind of barbarism can be the solution, and the salvation of these lives must become a priority for any people who dare call themselves civilized. Otherwise, as Mother Teresa said, the true poverty becomes our own: that any child must die in order for us to live the lives we wish.

  • http://writingwithoutpaper.blogspot.com Maureen

    Thank you for exposing this insidious practice. I plan to add my voice to your own to draw attention to the film.

  • Karen

    Feminism is the solution to this problem. Give women power and make girls an economic asset and this practice will end. End patriarchal notions of “woman’s place” and it will end. Quit tolerating evil ideas in the name of “multiculturalism” and it will end.

    • Acadian Girl

      Western feminism is part of the problem. Many high profile feminists refuse to condemn sex-selective abortions because they claim a woman’s right to choose an abortion is absolute and cannot be restricted for any reason. For shame.

      • NOLA

        It’s more insidious than that. There is no moral distinction between killing a newborn and killing and unborn. And there’s no distinction between killing a child because she is a girl, than killing a child because he or she is inconvenient.

    • Kori

      Karen, I agree that these countries need to rethink their view of women…but I don’t think feminism is the answer. This is not ultimately a matter of economics. It’s a matter of valuing human life. Feminism would only address the problem on a surface level — while it may change perspectives and even save girl’s lives, it wouldn’t address the core issue. The real solution is to regain respect for the intrinsic value of all lives, which only comes when we view all humans as valuable creations who reflect the image of God.

      • Amy

        Kori – I agree.

      • Elizabeth

        Well said Kori.
        May God’s light shine on these nations and may their heartsans minds be open be open to receiving Him.

    • Christy

      Karen, are you really that naive or just that ignorant. Feminism is the problem! Feminism is one of the greatest injustices to all of us women.

      • John

        You think it’s rampant feminism that causes widespread gendercide in developing countries? I can’t imagine what kind of confusion would lead you to think that. Women are so marginalized and oppressed in these parts of the world, there isn’t room to fit any feminism in edgewise. They can’t go to school, can’t work certain jobs, are beaten and killed on a whim, killed at birth, punished for being raped, and on and on and on.

    • dani

      Karen as someone who has traveled extensively in Asian countries–feminism is not the solution. The Asian way of viewing life and thinking is much different than our Western views. Basically it is survival of the fittest. If girls were important to a family’s survival and boys were not, then the boys would most likely be those aborted or killed. Poor families will often sell a child (male or female) into prostitution in order for the rest of the family to survive. They will choose the weakest or the strongest often–the strongest in the hopes that s/he will survive, the weakest as they don’t expect that child to make it anyhow. And it depends on the country too. In some countries daughters take care of their parents in their old age so they are valued for that alone. In others the daughter goes to the house of her husband and takes care of his parents. By saying feminism is the answer you are being counter productive in that you are not trying to change decades of behavior, but centuries. In many of the rural villages in Asian countries, basically nothing has changed in centuries in terms of how people view the value of each other. This includes how they view the value of a child’s gender and also the value of another human in the local caste system. With all my travels as much as I gut deep hate and abhor some of the practices with children and women, I’ve come to respect the cultures that have been flourishing long before the USA was ever founded. Things will change, but slowly. In the west we want things now, now, now. It isn’t going to happen that way in many of these Asian countries, nor should it in terms of the good aspects of their cultural heritage, pride and way of life. As human beings we have an obligation and right to try and change abhorrent behavior towards other humans, but we don’t have the right to storm in and over rule an entire cultural system.

  • http://www.matthewdickerson.net Matthew Dickerson

    Karen wrote that “Feminism is the solution to the problem…” And I think there is considerable wisdom in this in some ways. Especially ending patriarchal subjugation of women. And yes, giving women power would be good, and we must work toward that. And we must quit tolerating evil in any name. Thank you Karen for writing this strongly. But one thing I think we must be careful about is the notion that what will save women (or anybody) is making them an “economic asset”. Reading this article carefully, I think one of the problems is that we judge people by whether or not they are assets. In other words, I don’t think the deepest solution is to say that women become valuable because they become economic assets, but rather we must say that all people (women and men) are valuable whether they are economic assets or not. When value is reduced to economics, we are lost.

    • erin

      In fact, when our society values making women economically productive as a top priority, then society devalues a mother’s role. Surely women can be more economically productive if their children are prevented and severely limited. This HHS mandate and a push for birth control is being portrayed as helpful to women… so they can suppress their true femininity by not having babies, and then they can bring more monetary value to the country… sad.

  • pagansister

    As a mother of 2 (now grown) children, I can’t imagine carrying a baby for 9 months and then killing it. Though many object to abortions, IMO, terminating a pregnancy before birth is preferable to killing the baby after it is born. Karen, your idea is great, but how long will it take to give women power in the countries that have no use for a female child?

  • pagansister

    Meant to include in my comment above—I have a daughter and a son—and they are equal in my eyes. My wish when pregnant was a healthy baby—gender wasn’t a concern.

    • Nate Sauve

      Is that because healthy means, economically and personally satisfactory? Terminating the child pre or post birth for these reasons is the same fundamental reason these girls are not given a chance at life.

      • pagansister

        Healthy, Nate, means—healthy. Not “economically and personally satisfactory”. However, if one or both of my children had a physically problem, killing them would not have been an option.

  • http://www.davidgalalis.com David Galalis

    The cognitive dissonance here is astounding. Women killing women because they don’t value the lives of women.

    Here’s something else I don’t understand: as women become more scarce in India, wouldn’t pure economic principles tend to flip the dowry system on its head, whereby men pay the family of the bride? Of course, this is still just as much a commodification of women and thus no solution. But the fact that it hasn’t happened I think goes to show just how deeply entrenched the dowry system is in the cultural norms.

    • Nate Sauve

      The article does address the ramifications indirectly. Basically, since there aren’t enough girls to go around some are forced into sexual slavery so that one girl can make up for the lack of the many. I know it seems backwards, but as men increase exploitation of women increases rather than decreases.

  • http://www.arock4him.blogspot.com Amy Hunt

    I almost shared this without commenting. How can I? Where is my voice on this? And so…I am overwhelmed with disgust, and overwhelmed with embarrassment for human-kind, yet, God’s grace and love really is that big and wide and deep!? I want to declare it and then I realize I have a question looming at the end there. Because, my own sheltered life limits my faith, and by grace my eyes are opened to more of Him; He opens my eyes to my doubt and grows my faith. I don’t know my place in all of this. But I know I am moved. I am torn up about love…for even those trying to play god.

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  • http://katysammons.blogspot.com/ Katy

    Great article. I am the director of a crisis pregnancy clinic, and abortion-minded girls use the same rationale you mentioned. They are willing to abort the child, but they “just can’t give it away.” The only solution in all such circumstances is for all life to be seen as valuable in and of itself because all humans are created by God.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    In response to Karen, I would say that it depends on what you mean by feminism. If you mean a way of thinking that gives value, equal worth and equal opportunity to women, then that’s a start. But if you mean feminism as defined by the American/western feminist movement in the past five decades, then I would disagree. It’s not as though gendercide was common in the United States before Gloria Steinem came along. If where there were patriarchal notions of a woman’s place, gendercide was not common.

    Gendercide and infanticide have never been common in any Christian culture, to my knowledge.

  • Jennifer

    Devaluing life is always going to cause misery and pain, no matter how it is done. When Cain looked upon Abel and thought his life was not worth loving or protecting anymore, the murder he committed came out of that devaluation. Abortion in any form devalues life. Infanticide is shocking and horrible, but it is no different. What is most difficult is that it is the mother’s own hand who seeks to end her daughter’s life. For most of us, that is too hard to fathom.

    This article didn’t mention that in some Asian countries, a girl is valued highly, for one thing: to be sold into human sex trafficking. They are the families “big ticket” out of poverty. In this case, they are groomed from birth to be sold as children to get a good price (they pay higher prices for virgins.)

    Devaluation of life. Sick and twisted practices of the human heart. The salvation of us all lies in our understanding that each of us has inestimable worth by our very nature in having been created by God. He gives us our worth, and Jesus demonstrated our worth by dying for each of us….. taking our place… until people recognize this truth, evil will continue in its “war on women.”

  • Pigpen

    From the feminist position: I thought the feminist mantra was “a woman’s right to choose.” Haven’t these women made their choice, a fair choice? Just because these women have chosen DIFFERENTLY than you Western women would have, why are you so hot to stop a “choice” in the third world when you so vehemently defend and fight for that same “choice” in the West? Isn’t hypocrisy the name for that kind of behavior? And if they were “forced”, then why the nonchalant attitude? Did the women beg for help or seem upset or unnerved when they showed the film crews the graves of the children they themselves had STRANGLED? Didn’t seem like it was JUST the bad old men’s fault with no culpability from “Mom”.

    From the Christian position: Why, exactly, is it MORE wrong to abort or after birth abort because the baby is an UNWANTED GIRL than it is to abort because the baby is an UNWANTED BABY? What makes this type of abortion worse than one where the baby is male, but unwanted? The fact that not one of the thinking Christians here caught that is why Chivalry must DIE.

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  • Christine

    The idea that “Feminism is the problem!” is absurd. Feminists have never argued in favor of sex-selective abortion. Karen is right; what needs to happen is a sea change in which a culture respects women’s lives as equal to men’s, not just economically, but intrinsically. I am by no means sure that the women who kill their babies actually want to kill their babies. If given a true, free choice, without negative consequences, I suspect that very few would commit infanticide. And the laughter of the woman speaks more to discomfort and denial than joy. What a tragic story of lives lost.

  • http://brandonweldy.com Brandon Weldy

    So what can be done? My wife and I have seen reports on this before and our hearts break! But we don’t want it to just stop there. We want to DO something. Right now all we know to do is pray. What can we do to stop these evil practices and to help those poor helpless girls?

  • Merideth

    Hideous. Sterilization might be the answer …. this is too sick to contemplate

  • http://www.theguiltyconscience.com Lane Severson

    This is happening in the US too. In fact we have no laws against it unlike China or India. So there’s that. http://theguiltyconscience.com/2012/10/03/in-which-i-learn-that-preventing-the-death-of-baby-girls-is-hypocritical

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