Of the largest global populations, a shocking gender imbalance is emerging as the by-product of centuries of perverse societal constraints and practices. China and India harbor cultures of anti-female sentiment so intense that egregious state-sanctioned crimes against humanity are considered the norm, and the near attempt to eradicate young daughters is adopted even by mothers themselves in gruesome acts of infanticide. Inconceivable, but the mass murder of female babies and children is widely established and accepted, and while some of the tactics used to trim the influx of women into the populace are not protected by law, they are by no means inhibited by either nation’s lawmakers. How are these malpractices so wildly overlooked? And at what point can cultural custom be disbanded to allow for reform and social change?
In India, the main culprit behind the gendercide epidemic is the dowry system. The existence of dowries condemns daughters to a role of subservience, burdening their families financially and inviting husbands to equate wives only with the monetary or commodity value that she is able to provide upon engagement. Raising a wife is of no use to an Indian family; wives are costly, and once they’ve married, the care and support that they can offer is reserved strictly for the in-laws. Impoverished ruralites simply cannot divest themselves of funds or resources for the benefit of others. The result, then, is a string of unfathomable abuses plaguing the woman in all stages of development: illegal but common sex-selective ultrasounds and abortions, the murder of infants by their mothers or guardians, medical neglect throughout childhood and exposure to sickness and disease, “dowry deaths” committed by husbands when a woman has too little to give, and spousal abuse emanating from childbearing tensions. And these issues are not limited to just the working poor. India’s wealthy classes approach the gender binary with the same mentality, the only difference being that they are better equipped to pay off the pricey under-the-table costs of the sex-determination ultrasounds and then, if the results are unfavorable, abortion.
Criticizing mothers for what appears to be unimaginable callousness is complicated once the treatment of the female population is more thoroughly considered. Our understanding of a mother’s role is that she is an ultimate caregiver, protecting her children from the dangers of the world. How can a mother bring a child into a climate so discordant and unforgiving? Sons, though beneficial for the family, also are born with their own opportunities for social wellbeing, financial success, career prosperity, extended familial ties, etc. Reform, here, must transcend class distinctions and family wealth. The holistic ideology of Indian culture is to blame for the degradation of what is now the country’s minority population, and until it is reworked, the systematic targeting of women will persist.
The Chinese situation is not one provoked by tradition, but policy. To curb the dangerously rising population, the government enacted legislation in the late ‘70s restricting the number of children born to a family; measures such as the tracking of birth control use and the scheduled authorization of conception were enabled, and those who did not abide by these were subjected to government coercion and unlawful forced termination of pregnancies. This was enforced more stringently in dense urban areas due to the want for labor amongst the families of rural provinces. However, in agricultural regions, sons are needed to perform physical tasks and and financially provide for aged parents, so it is here that the gender ratio is most skewed. With female births regularly hidden from record, the statistics cannot be analyzed seriously, but it is valid nonetheless that Chinese brothers are outnumbering their sisters. Furthermore, an institution known as the Family Planning Police monitors villages by bribing neighbors to report the misdeeds of other families, sharing information of any illegal children. Law-breaking individuals are struck with fines so steep that many are led to economic ruin.
A psychological consequence afflicts the mothers who have fallen victim to their country’s eerily distopian system. China has the highest global rate of female suicide, according to the World Health Organization, with an average of 500 deaths per day. Additionally, child trafficking and kidnapping have become a prevalent response to the rising demand for brides, and with these, sex-trafficking and prostitution. The outlook for the female condition here is grim.
Custom is not easily stripped from a society. Traditions support and create economic and political structures that perpetuate sexism and patriarchal abuse, but to reverse tradition, in these instances it is evident that policies must be redirected. Although sex-determinative ultrasounds in both countries are illegal and though India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961, courts and lawmakers enable the continuance of the very practices that have been outlawed. If pressed to govern with attention to national legislation, the countries will likely experience a disturbance in the current trend. But in the meantime, as is the fashion for any historical genocide, we’ll remain blissfully unaware.