Focus: (1) India (2) China Summary
The phenomenon of female infanticide is as old as many cultures, and has likely accounted for millions of genderselective deaths throughout history. It remains a critical concern in a number of "Third World" countries today, notably the two most populous countries on earth, China and India. In all cases, specifically femaleinfanticide reflects the low status accorded to women in most parts of the world; it is arguably the most brutal and destructive manifestation of the antifemale bias that pervades "patriarchal" societies. It is closely linked to the phenomena of sex-selective abortion, which targets female fetuses almost exclusively, and neglect of girl children.
"Female infanticide is theintentional killing of baby girls due to the preference for male babies and from the low value associated with the birth of females." (Marina Porras, "Female Infanticide and Foeticide".) It should be seen as a subset of the broader phenomenon of infanticide, which has also targeted the physically or mentally handicapped, and infant males (alongside infant females or, occasionally, on a gender-selectivebasis). As with maternal mortality, some would dispute the assigning of infanticide or female infanticide to the category of "genocide" or, as here, "gendercide." Nonetheless, the argument advanced in the maternal mortality case-study holds true in this case as well: governments and other actors can be just as guilty of mass killing by neglect or tacit encouragement, as by direct murder. R.J. Rummelbuttresses this view, referring to infanticide as another type of government killing whose victims may total millions ... In many cultures, government permitted, if not encouraged, the killing of handicapped or female infants or otherwise unwanted children. In the Greece of 200 B.C., for example, the murder of female infants was so common that among 6,000 families living in Delphi no more than 1percent had two daughters. Among 79 families, nearly as many had one child as two. Among all there were only 28 daughters to 118 sons. ... But classical Greece was not unusual. In eighty-four societies spanning the Renaissance to our time, "defective" children have been killed in one-third of them. In India, for example, because of Hindu beliefs and the rigid caste system, young girls were murderedas a matter of course. When demographic statistics were first collected in the nineteenth century, it was discovered that in "some villages, no girl babies were found at all; in a total of thirty others, there were 343 boys to 54 girls. ... [I]n Bombay, the number of girls alive in 1834 was 603."
Rummel adds: "Instances of infanticide ... are usually singular events; they do not happen enmasse. But the accumulation of such officially sanctioned or demanded murders comprises, in effect, serial massacre. Since such practices were so pervasive in some cultures, I suspect that the death toll from infanticide must exceed that from mass sacrifice and perhaps even outright mass murder." (Rummel, Death by Government, pp. 65-66.)
Focus (1): India
As John-Thor Dahlburg points out, "in ruralIndia, the centuries-old practice of female infanticide can still be considered a wise course of action." (Dahlburg, "Where killing baby girls 'is no big sin'," The Los Angeles Times [in The Toronto Star, February 28, 1994.]) According to census statistics, "From 972 females for every 1,000 males in 1901 ... the gender imbalance has tilted to 929 females per 1,000 males. ... In the nearly 300poor hamlets of the Usilampatti area of Tamil Nadu [state], as many as 196 girls died under suspicious circumstances [in 1993] ... Some were fed dry, unhulled rice that punctured their windpipes, or were made to swallow poisonous powdered fertilizer. Others were smothered with a wet towel, strangled or allowed to starve to death." Dahlburg profiles one disturbing case from Tamil Nadu: Lakshmi...