How does female infanticide and female foeticide contribute to the issue of modern slavery?
This is the final feature of our series on female infanticide, female foeticide, and how these two practices contribute to the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery.
To recap, female infanticide is the intentional killing of female babies due to the cultural preference of males. Female foeticide includes aborting a baby simply based on the fact that the child is a female.
In certain cultures, male children are preferred over females, a preference that can often lead the family to end the female’s life. In these cases, males are valued as workers, providers for the family, and needed to carry on the family name. On the other hand, females are seen as an extra mouth to feed, an increased liability, and an economic burden, particularly when it comes time to pay a dowry for her to get married.
Although some measures are being taken to counter the killing of baby girls, such as baby hatches, female infanticide and foeticide have become problematic in a more systematic manner: they have consequently contributed to modern day slavery.
Let’s take a look at India as an example. In India, there are about 7.1 million fewer females than males below the age of 6 as a result of killing female babies either before or after they are born. This sex ratio imbalance has led to a shortage of women as potential brides for men. In Indian culture, marriage is valued greatly and those who remain unmarried, especially men, may become social outcasts. In order to deal with a shortage of women, they are often trafficked from other areas, mostly for bride trafficking and in some cases, sex trafficking.
A survey conducted by Queens University estimated that between 2011-2014, there was a 30% increase in the number of women lured or coerced into marriage across 1,300 Indian villages. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that out of a study of 92 villages in Haryana, a state in northern India, 9 out of 10 brides had been purchased from another state or country.
In some cases, families who decide not to kill the females that are born keep having babies until they end up with a male. These families may become involved in bride trafficking, selling their girls off to another area where female infanticide and female foeticide are more prevalent and there are fewer women than men.
While some of these marriages may seem voluntary because they have been promised a comfortable life within a successful family, the reality of these marriages is much more grim. The UNODC says that many women sold through bride trafficking end up being raped, abused, or treated as domestic slaves.
The Guardian interviewed an employee at Empower People, an Indian non-profit that fights bride trafficking. He revealed the unfortunate truth that a seasonal worker may cost around $140, but a wife only costs $100 for a lifetime. If it doesn’t work out with one man, she can be resold to another, just like former plantation slaves in the United States.
Females are treated as a commodity, not a human. All of this results from the stigmatization of having a female baby.
Ironically, the gender of the baby is determined by the chromosome structure of the man. This is the same man who may deem the baby worth killing because it’s a female, even though he may have had to search intensely and/or pay for a female to procreate with.
Let’s recap and look at the cyclical issues that female infanticide and female foeticide perpetuate. The killing of baby girls leads to a shortage of women. This leads to men purchasing trafficked women as wives. These wives are often mistreated, perpetuating violence against women. Girls are continually viewed as a burden, so they are avoided at all costs, starting the cycle over again and locking in human trafficking as a common practice.
The best thing we can do is to continue educating ourselves on human trafficking and its many causes. Have a conversation with someone about one topic influencing modern day slavery and they may have another one to share that you’ve never heard of. Keep your curiosity alive! That way, we know which organizations and movements to empower (They exist! Good news!) that are creating lasting change and ending human trafficking for good.
Although this issue may seem distant if your specific culture does not violate women in such an extreme manner, it is still our job to educate ourselves on the widespread stigmas against women and their consequences. Man and woman alike, we must value women as much as men all over the world. Otherwise, these issues will persist and perpetuate cycles trapping women in slavery.
About the Author
Anna Stephens is a native Texan pursuing her Master's of Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science at Lund University in Sweden. She has participated in Dressember for 3 years, and plans to continue using fashion as a platform for awareness and eradication of human trafficking. In her spare time, you can find her drinking iced coffee, looking for dogs to pet, or exploring Swedish nature with her friends.