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Female Infanticide - India's Unspoken Evil

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INDIAN
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In the past two months, the plight of India's women has been gaining widespread public awareness in the UK. Fierce domestic protest has followed the rape and murder of an un-named young woman in Delhi last December. Such crimes persist even in the Western world and these have once more shone the spotlight on the regressive and patriarchal attitudes that still prevail against women today.

The Delhi rape case has been a particularly stark realisation for people in the UK, where India is mostly seen as both a booming international market, and an increasingly modern, innovative nation.

Yet along with the rest of the world, people in Britain have had to face the uncomfortable truth that South Asia remains stuck firmly in the past in how women are treated, and with regard to their role in society.

As the five men accused of December's abduction, rape and murder come to trial, however, there is a danger that some of the broader issues underlying the way India's women are treated go unnoticed.

Not many in the UK, for instance, would realize that 2.8million girls in India have gone missing in the last 20 years.

Whereas in 1991, there were 947 girls for every 1000 boys, last year that number had fallen to 914. The cause is simple - sex selective abortions, and the murder of infants.

Abortion, legal in India since 1971, is now being illegally gender-targeted. This is enabling the purposeful extermination of the female population in India.

As an UN report showed last year, India is the most dangerous place in the world to be born a girl. From 2000-2010, there were 56 deaths among boys aged one-five for every 100 among girls.

There are a number of reasons why India, which venerates Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge, Arts & Science, continues to nurture a culture of hatred towards its daughters, born and unborn.

While sons ensure the continuation of the family name, daughters are seen as guests within their own family, until they can marry and join their husband's family. Moreover, the continuing practice of dowry feeds the perception that sons are profitable since they bring income to the family through marriage, and daughters a financial burden for the opposite reason.

Such attitudes are the foundation of the brutal realities of foeticide and infanticide, and the well of often-violent misogyny that is finally being brought to the attention of people in the UK and across the world.

For Dr Manhoman Singh, in many ways a reforming Indian prime minister, female foeticide and infanticide is a scourge that has been difficult to fight and eradicate, with dire consequences.

I am calling on Dr Singh to take concrete measures to combat the growing horror of foeticide and infanticide in India. In the first instance, the law against marriage payments must be strengthened. The practice of dowry, under which the family of a woman who is marrying offers a form of payment or gift to the husband, has been illegal for over 50 years, but is not yet defunct.

The existing 1961 law needs to be strengthened, and the penal sentences increased, to wipe out use of dowries and prevent women being treated as commodities. Inheritance laws across all religions also need to be brought in line with the 2004 Hindu Succession Act, giving daughters an equal stake in family property.

The government can further take action against the illegal clinics that offer sex-selective abortions, to remove the opportunities for couples who seek to determine the sex of their baby, and terminate a female pregnancy.

If such steps - designed to target inherently misogynistic attitudes and family cultures - are not taken, India will fail in curbing incidences of brutal violence against women, such as those that have gained worldwide attention in recent months.

Beyond legal action, a new culture in Indian education is needed to change perceptions about women, and ensure the next generation escapes the mindset of its parents.

With the world watching, the Indian government must seize the moment and take decisive action towards changing the way the country thinks about women. That is what the country needs, and the international community rightly expects.

Namrata is an ambassador for One Young World, the charity that hosts a global youth forum. As part of the most recent One Young World summit, she won a competition to write an open letter to a global leader suggesting how they could do better in combating a particular issue. Namrata's letter to Dr Manmohan Singh, on female foeticide and infaniticde in India, was judged the most powerful by a panel including Sir Bob Geldof and Fatima Bhutto.

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