“20/20’s” Riveting Look at “Gendercide” in India

By Dave Andrusko

From the opening shot, multiplied in power by photos of dead young girls and a gripping narrative, ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas’s exploration of “Gendercide” in India brings to life what can almost seem to be an abstraction: missing girls and women. In India’s case, 50,000 girl babies are aborted every month.

Her story, on last Friday’s “20/20,” personalized and humanized an alarming issue we’ve written about dozens of times: a preference for boys  so overwhelming that sex-selection abortions are leaving whole villages virtually barren of women.

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Vargas emphasizes that there are laws against ultrasounds to determine the sex of the baby and against aborting because the child is the “wrong” sex but they are ignored with total impunity. “We walked down street after street and saw signs everywhere advertising ultrasound services,“ she says. “There are even technicians who pack portable ultrasounds and travel to villages offering their services.”

Vargas went to a village in the province of Haryana. ”Everywhere we looked, we saw boys, young men, old men, but very, very few women,” she says. “It was unsettling, especially because we knew this was not some freak of nature, but a result of the deliberate extermination of girls.”

We know that this preference for boys is not restricted to poor families. The use of ultrasound by the middle class and upper middle class is rampant “to guarantee they get sons.”

For example, Vargas interviews Mitu, a pediatrician, married to a doctor.   But when she became pregnant, Mitu said her husband’s family pressured her to have an illegal ultrasound to see if her twins were girls or boys.

According to Mitu, they fed her eggs to which she is allergic and while she was in the hospital secretly had an ultrasound taken where they learned the babies were girls. The husband and his family continued to try to induce a miscarriage by torturing her and depriving her of food, she said. In desperation Mitu fled to her own family where she delivered her baby girls.

The video that accompanies the story can be found online at http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2011/12/all-those-little-faces-elizabeth-vargas-explores-indias-gendercide/ends. However it ends abruptly. But there is additional text which talks about baby girls who are born and abandoned. The “lucky” ones are taken in the middle of the night to what is called a “drop box.” Vargas says one drop box

“is at a place called the Unique Orphanage in Punjab.  We went from the village with no women, to the orphanage with no boys.  There are only girls here…60 of them…all cared for by a wonderful woman who will raise each and every one.  It is striking to see all those little faces, some two days old, others teenagers, all unwanted by their biological families.  They are actually the lucky ones.  Their parents didn’t kill them.  They now have someone who loves them.

“The orphanage is crowded – I counted three, sometimes four girls in each bed — but also immaculate.  No one knows their real birth date, so once a year they have one giant birthday party for everyone.   As we left the orphanage, I thought back to a temple I visited days earlier where newlyweds make a pilgrimage, to kneel and pray.  Not for wealth, or long lives, or success.  They pray for a baby boy, and not for a girl.  Some of them are willing to kill to make that wish come true.”

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