01/29/2015, 00.00
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For Indian bishop, to save girls from selective abortions, minds must be educated

The Supreme Court orders Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to ban pre-natal sex selection ads. Prime Minister launches two new programmes to educate and empower girls. "Indian society is sexist," CBCI Office for Women chairman told AsiaNews. thus, Indian women must be helped "to be aware and empower themselves".

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - For many years, not one girl was born in 70 Indian villages. Every day, 2,000 girls are killed across the country. On average, the ratio of males to females at birth is 1,000 to 914. These figures are the practical consequence of selective female abortions, a discriminatory practice that is widespread across the country.

Speaking on the topic, Mgr Jacob Mar Barnabas, chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) Office for Women, noted that "the Catholic Church has always been at the forefront of the fight against these practices." Now, "even Indian authorities seem to have noticed the problem and want to do their part," he said.

Under India's 1994 Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, it is illegal to use specific tests to determine the sex of a foetus. However, the law is widely violated by colluding doctors and couples who want a son.

In view of the situation, the Supreme Court of India yesterday ordered Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to block ads promoting sex selection prenatal tests. However, the three giants Internet-related services and products providers responded by saying that their advertising does not violate the laws of India.

Similarly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 23 January launched two joint programmes: Beti Bachao, beti padhao (Save girl child, educate girl child) and Sukanya Samriddhi Account (Girl Child Prosperity Scheme).

The first seeks to raise awareness about the value of girls and improve the efficiency of delivery of welfare services to women. The second is a special deposit scheme that grants parents or guardians the right to open a savings account with a minimum deposit on behalf of girls under the age of ten.

By and large, "Modi's moves are positive," Mgr Barnabas told AsiaNews. "Whether this is politically or otherwise motivated, it is impossible to know. However, if it leads to something that fosters women's empowerment and development, then there is something positive in it."

According to the prelate, the basic problem is that "Indian society is sexist. Everyone consider men as the breadwinner and the arrival of a son is seen as a positive sign of vitality and energy."

"Sex determination tests have allowed this to spread," he added. "However, in our context, other factors have played a role. Rampant poverty is one, and the dowry system is another, a reality nobody talks about, which is not accepted openly, but which is quite widespread."

For these reasons, "the problem got worse," Mgr Barnabas explained. "To fight it, we need to do three things: educate, forge minds and have a well-rounded approach."

"India is a country blessed with a multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-cultural environment," he noted. "However, such variety, along with the difficult economic environment, makes it hard to find a single solution."

For its part, "the Bishops' Conference has always tried to address the problem from multiple angles." The bishops "try to help all Indian women, not only Catholic women, to be aware and empower themselves, so that society understands the true value of little girls."

"This will be a long journey," they believe, "but we are improving."

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