India's girl-child struggles to
survive Sujoy Dhar
DELHI - At the intensive care unit of the
state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences
(AIIMS) hospital in New Delhi, a battered
two-year-old baby girl is fighting to survive.
The doctors attending to her have waged a
six-week battle to keep her alive, but they are
quickly losing hope that she will ever live a
normal life after the torture she endured at such
a tender age. When she was first brought to
the hospital by a 15-year-old sexual abuse victim,
Baby Falak was almost dead and covered in bite
marks, apparently inflicted by the young girl who
brought her in.
In medical terms, Falak is
suffering from battered baby syndrome,
in which an infant
sustains injuries as a result of physical abuse,
usually inflicted by an adult caregiver.
Internal injuries, cuts, burns, bruises
and broken or fractured bones are all possible
signs of battered child syndrome and Baby Falak
has suffered it all.
As her story unfolded
and a harsh media spotlight prompted an in-depth
investigation, it transpired that the baby had
changed several hands to end up with the
15-year-old who is herself a sexual abuse victim
of the man with whom she eloped with to escape an
abusive father. In anger and frustration, the
teenager beat up the infant quite brutally before
dropping her off at the hospital.
the police hunted for the baby's birthmother
Munni, who had been separated from her children,
they stumbled upon a sordid story of India's
treatment of its girl children.
India's electronic media hijacked Baby Falak's
story to highlight the plight of the girl child,
social workers say she is but one of countless
infants who suffer similar trauma and whose
stories almost always go unreported. In the first
two months of 2012 alone, four baby girls between
the ages of two days and six months were found
abandoned on trains and roads across Indian cities
like Bhopal and Asansol.
activists also claim that while newborn girls live
an insecure life and fall prey to atrocities,
countless girls are eliminated even before they
see the light of this world.
the 2011 Census and other national statistics
700,000 girl children are missing at birth (due to
termination of pregnancy once a fetus' sex is
confirmed) and experts say this may reach the one
million mark in this decade if serious effort is
not made to reverse or halt it," Akhila Sivadas,
executive director of the New Delhi-based Centre
for Advocacy and Research (CAR) told IPS.
Sivadas' remarks come in the wake of a new
United Nations study
indicating that India is the world's most
dangerous place for girl children. "Sex
Differentials in Childhood Mortality," a project
of the UN's Department of Economic and Social
Affairs (UNDESA), reveals that a girl aged between
one and five years is 75% more likely to die than
a boy in India, marking the world's most extreme
gender disparity in child mortality.
Global infant and child mortality rates
have been on the decline in recent years, with a
large portion of the world seeing young girls
experiencing higher rates of survival than young
boys; but India remains the exception to this
"The issue of gender
discrimination and precarious survival of girls
where there is (already) prevalence of feticide is
a matter of grave concern and requires urgent
action," said Shantha Sinha, chairperson of the
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
(NCPCR) in India.
According to Sivadas,
the number of girls missing at birth can be
attributed to the advent of ultrasound technology
that has made it possible for even rural women to
determine their child's sex before birth. She said
that new technology must be regulated, or else it
will become a double-edged sword.
Activists also say that Assisted
Reproductive Technology (ART) is being used to
conceive male children now.
that all these technologies first became available
to the "educated" class between 1991 and 2001 in
the rich of Punjab and Haryana states, resulting
in the queer phenomenon of higher female mortality
rates or less girl children altogether.
Now that the technology is freely
available, its effects are much more widespread.
"There is a deep seated 'son preference'
in this country; we are directly paying the price
of development as technology makes it possible to
eliminate the unborn girl child," Sivadas
"And even when the child is born
she is subjected to early neglect. Neonatal child
mortality is also linked with the problem of
malnutrition. All forces combine to create life
precariousness," she added.
that the dismantling of India's public
distribution system (PDS), through which essential
food items were made available to poorer families
at subsidized rates, is an important factor in the
crisis, since parents who cannot feed their
children often grow desperate.
"If we can
at least prevent [sex-selective abortions], the
way [they were stopped] in the Northern states of
Haryana and Punjab, at least the girl child has a
fighting chance when she is out in this world,"
While the number of
sex-selective abortions is a grave phenomenon,
Baby Falak is a reminder of the other side of the
coin: the plight that awaits a newborn girl in a
society that does not welcome her, or objectifies
"The Falak incident reminds us of the
need to expand and deepen the presence of
institutions that are meant to offer protection to
children. This includes a secure family," Sinha
She added that Falak's story,
which has aroused the national conscience, has
reminded the nation of the inadequacy of the reach
of the system in safeguarding the most vulnerable
"There is a lot that has to
be done. We need greater cooperation between the
police, the child welfare committee (CWC), health
ministries and the media if we want to protect
every child who is left abandoned and uncared
for," she said.
"Unless there is a sincere
endeavor based on the non-negotiable principle
that children should enjoy all their rights, it
will be difficult to reach out to them," she
According to Sivadas, India now
needs a response similar to the one instituted
back in the 1960s in the Southern state of Tamil
"In Tamil Nadu a basket of change
was brought in for health, nutrition and
childcare, with good results. We need that today,"