Human Rights Council: Panel discussion on female foeticide and girl infanticide

[GENEVA, 20 March 2007] - A panel discussion was held this morning, with the participation of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Erturk, to launch the report Girls' Right to Live: Female foeticide and girl infanticide, by members of the Working Group on the Girl Child. The theme of the report coincides with that of the 51st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women "Elimination of discrimination and violence against the girl child."

Erturk stressed the importance of bringing attention to the problem to build up the political will to eliminate violence against women and girls. In India alone, she said, there have been 10,000 cases of ‘lost girls’ in the last two decades. The government outlawed sex-related abortion 12 years ago, yet only one doctor has so far been convicted. The law exists, but is not being diligently implemented.

She went on to say that we must not “compartmentalise the problem as traditional, or treat it purely within a cultural framework because it makes solutions very difficult, what can we do? Destroy entire cultures? What we have learned is that violence against women is a universal problem and that one type of violence is intimately linked to another as the root causes are the same: they are all very much related to gender inequality."

There is still an absence of good qualitative research; most of what does exist concerns India and China. In India, the termination of pregnancies and girl infanticide is linked to the dowry which must be paid to a bride’s family; in China it is linked to the single child policy. In both, it is the result of gender inequality because of the secondary value attached to the girl child. Girls are not only killed, but are left to suffer malnutrition, and denied access to health. All the problems we talk about which affect women start from when the girl child is born.

These practices of course deny girls the right to life, but they also lead to other problems. Sex ratios are reaching alarming levels: in India there are just 882 girls to every 1,000 boys. This kind of discrepancy has generated other types of violence, such as a sharp rise in girls being trafficked and forcibly married. Aside from this, there are very different actors involved. Governments are not diligently fighting the issue: they may have policies but they are not doing enough to implement them. Multinational corporations should play a key role in observing human rights violations, in terms of investment, but they also often knowingly sell their products to illegal trafficking networks. Parents too are responsible for perpetuating these practices.

She emphasised the need to see the problem within a wider context of diverse actors contribute to the problem. We should not delink from violence against women and gender inequality, if we do, it can shift problems into other areas, for example one of the interventions of the Indian government was to urge an end to the killing of girls and appealing to parents to instead to hand their girls over to institutions.

Governments have an obligation not only to prevent violence, but to tackle societal attitudes which perpetuate violence. Referring to UN mandates, she said, the “idea of harmful traditional practices was useful in bringing attention to problematic issues, such as female genital mutilation, but that lessons learned show that it is not about this, but about harmful practices, indeed, in many places, FGM is a very modern practice.”

In closing she said we must not lose the universal approach to addressing violence against girls. Women are not homogeneous, of course, but there are underlying similarities and inequalities which must be tackled universally.

In a brief discussion, participants highlighted that the richest States in India have more foeticide than poorer States, a reality which is linked to technological developments and the possibility of sex selection. India offers money for keeping children, has worked in education system in many countries. The dowry system is illegal, so it is difficult for the government to help with this. It must not be forgotten that women themselves help to perpetuate this pattern of violence.

When asked if she had spoken to the “worst offending” governments such as the two she had spoken about, Erturk replied that both India and China governments acknowledge the problem and are willing to engage, the question is how can we work together with them. One way I can dialogue with States is if I receive individual communications. This means I can write to the government and initiate dialogue.

The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Erturk, presented her report to the Human Rights Council this afternoon.

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