There was a time in the 1980s when portions of India had a well-deserved, but much-maligned "reputation for 'gendercide,'" says a March 7 story in the New York Times. Female babies were unwelcome intruders; male children were much preferred. Because of that, female babies often were killed, sometimes by feeding them "poisonous milk of oleander."
To remedy this problem and, hopefully, help save the lives of these baby girls, the Mother and Child Welfare Project worked to both size the problem and to identify tactics that would work within the local culture and communities. Care centers were established; mothers could drop their children off while they worked in the fields. Other children benefited from adoption. The article cited one case where adoption paperwork was signed just in time, saving the life of an infant girl.
Education of women was another tactic that proved successful. Giving women knowledge and skills, the Project not only saved the lives of young female babies, it also increased the overall perceived value of women in the culture.
The changes didn't happen overnight. But, as the perceived value of women increased, so, too, did the tolerance for female babies increased. Twenty years after the reputation for "gendercide" became widespread, the region proudly reports that zero incidence of infant murders.
"We used to think that if we kill a female baby, we would cry only for a day, but if the baby were to survive, we would cry all our lives. But now, with so many women and girls educated, working and earning well, our attitude has completely changed," said a grandfather interviewed by The New York Times.
U.S. families looking to adopt internationally have long considered India to be a viable option. According to the U.S. Department of State, 4,979 children from India were adopted by U.S. citizens between 1999 and 2011, the last year for which statistics are available. A significant majority of those children were female.