- - Monday, September 16, 2013

U.S. sex-selection schemes have led to a busy traffic in women

While most people’s eyes are focused these days on the unfolding crisis in Syria — and understandably so — there are other parts of the world where atrocities continue unabated, though they may remain hidden from public view. One such place is India, where, despite its surface appearance of a democratic and increasingly prosperous society, it is a very dangerous place to be a girl child.

By most estimates, there are tens of millions of women missing in India due to the devaluing of female life beginning in the womb. Sex-selective abortion and female infanticide have led to lopsided sex ratios: In parts of India, for example, 126 boys are born for every 100 girls. This, in turn, leads to a shortage of women, which then leads to trafficking, bride-selling and prostitution. Women in India thus are confronted with a compounding crisis, where, according to the most recent national census figures, there are 37 million more men than women.

The roots of the present problem lie not only with cultural factors, such as the demand for dowries paid by the bride’s family, but also misbegotten policy decisions. These include population-control programs such as sex-selection abortion schemes that were hatched in the United States by Planned Parenthood, the Population Council and others, which have had a disproportionately negative impact on India’s women.

Sex-selection abortion is cruel and discriminatory. It is violence against women. Most people in and out of government remain woefully unaware of the fact that sex-selection abortion is a violent, nefarious and deliberate policy imposed on the world by the pro-abortion population-control movement — it’s not an accident. Lawmakers in India, the United States and worldwide must defend women from this vicious assault.

It is for this reason that the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that I chair held a hearing last week on India’s missing girls.

Matthew Connelly, a Columbia University historian of the population-control movement testified about the roots of the crisis, recounting how “it was development professionals who first promoted sex-selective abortion as a potential solution to what they saw as the population explosion.”

Mr. Connelly told how in the 1960s, Planned Parenthood’s head of research, Steven Polgar, urged biologists to find a method for sex determination in utero. Likewise, Bernard Berelson, then the president of the Population Council, floated the idea in a particularly chilling 1969 article of how sex selection coupled with abortion was a relatively “ethical” means to control population should it ever be necessary to go “beyond” voluntary methods of family planning. One wonders if Mr. Berelson ever considered what devastating effects his ideas would have on girls when he breezily wrote, “Easy means for sex determination should have some effect upon the ‘need for sons’ and thus cut completed family size to some extent.”

Mr. Connelly also testified how the Population Council sent the head of its biomedical division, Sheldon Segal, to New Delhi to instruct Indian doctors how to determine the sex of the unborn child while publicly advocating this as means to control population.

In like manner, Mara Hvinstendahl, who submitted testimony, recounted in her book “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” that “By August 1969, when the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Population Council convened another workshop on population control, sex selection had become a pet scheme . Sex selection, moreover, had the added advantage of reducing the number of potential mothers if a reliable sex determination technology could be made available to a mass market,” there was “rough consensus” that sex selection abortion “would be an effective, uncontroversial and ethical way of reducing the global population.”

In other words, fewer women, fewer mothers, fewer future children.

These efforts were also abetted by the United States Agency for International Development, which made “incentive payments for providers to carry out” sterilization procedures — a system Mr. Connelly labeled “ripe for abuse.”

In the 1970s, he said, the agency “provided more money for ‘family planning,’ so called, than the rest of the world put together.” Major foundations such as the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations also funded population control programs.

There is thus a direct link between family-planning schemes hatched in the United States decades ago with the present crisis in India. Today, despite laws on the books in India that ban sex determination in the womb, the slaughter continues. These laws are seldom enforced and indeed are undercut by “two child” laws, which exist at the state level in India. Modeled after China’s draconian one-child policy, these laws penalize parents who have more than two children, thereby implicitly encouraging parents to weed out baby girls, especially in cases where the first child born was already a daughter.

It is the “downstream” effects of sex-selective abortion and its twin, female infanticide, which continue to reverberate and affect the well-being of women who are alive. Because of the ensuing shortage of women, India has seen a great increase in trafficking of women, bride-selling and prostitution. There is a marked trend toward polyandry — the sharing of one woman among brothers — and the wedding of child brides.

Jill McElya, a human rights lawyer with the Invisible Girl Project, drew a direct link in her testimony between what she termed “gendercide” — the killing of young girls in the womb and after birth — and trafficking of women. One small step to addressing the root of the trafficking, she suggested, is requiring our State Department to report on what countries such as India and China are doing to protect the girl child in the womb and on sex ratios in countries where the girl child is especially at risk, just as we require reports on trafficking.

By shining a light on what is happening in India with its missing girls, we can move toward a world where every woman is valued and respected because of her intrinsic dignity, and where every child is welcomed regardless of his or her sex.

Rep. Chris Smith is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey.

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