India’s National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights has ordered the Madhya Pradesh government to investigate claims that 300 girls underwent surgeries to become boys in procedures that cost the equivalent $3,200 each. It has also asked for a list of the doctors and hospitals involved in the surgeries as well as actions taken or planned against them, according to The Times of India.
The children in question are said to be between one and five years of age, according to the Hindustan Times.
Civil society activists have reacted with outrage, with one saying the practice “has made a mockery of women in India.”
The author and feminist Taslima Nasreen in a Twitter post wrote: “Shocking! Not only do people kill unborn girls, they turn girls into boys by genitoplasty.”
She added: “Doctors who practice illegal female foeticide and genitoplasty should get life in prison.”
It is not uncommon in India, which has a population of 1.2 billion, for families to prefer boys but the lengths to which parents will go to secure a baby boy have come under attack in recent years.
Sex selective abortions have resulted in a gender balance that favors boys and there are now seven million more boys than girls under six years of age, according to The Daily Telegraph of Britain.
Activists say news of the parents changing the gender of their daughters means that girls are not safe even after birth.
Although the surgeries were performed in Indore in Madhya Pradesh, the children were operated on were from all across the country.
Physicians quoted in the investigation said they only performed “corrective surgeries” on children born with genital abnormalities, but activists said parents and physicians were incorrectly identifying the conditions in a bid to turn girls into boys.
The parents of a two-year-old who had the surgery spoke to the Hindustan Times on the condition of anonymity.
“I think my child would not be confused over his gender when he grows up and can live a normal life as he would not have any memories of the surgery,” One of the parents said.
When asked about requiring the consent of a patient, a physician who performed the genitoplasty, Dr. Brijesh Lahoti, told the Hindustan Times “In India, there is no problem in performing these surgeries as only the consent from parents and an affidavit is required.”
The president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics in Indore, Dr V P Goswami, was quoted by The Telegraph as being shocked to learn of the surgeries and said that such procedures could leave the child impotent or infertile in adulthood.
“Genitoplasty is possible on a normal baby of both the sexes but later on these organs will not grow with the hormonal influence and this will lead to their infertility as well as their impotency. It is shocking news and we will be looking into it and taking corrective measures,” he told the Telegraph. “Parents have to consider the social as well as the psychological impact of such procedures on the child.”
Leading activists have deplored the failure of education and public awareness campaigns to shift attitudes on preference for boys over girls.
“The figures are getting worse. In 2001 there were 886 girls born to every 1,000 boys in Delhi. Today there are only 866. The more educated and rich you are, the more there is killing of girls,” said Ms. Kumari who is also a leading campaigner against female foeticide.
A study conducted in 2009 revealed that 7,000 female foeticides occurred every day in India. The same study said that over the past 20 years, as many as 10 million girls had been killed by their parents either prior to their birth or immediately after.
“People don’t want to share their property or invest in girls’ education or pay dowries. It’s the greedy middle classes running after money. It is just so shocking and an outright violation of children’s rights,” said Ms. Kumari.
She told The Telegraph that the government needed to shift its focus on reminding people about how Hinduism places a great value on women. (India is constitutionally a secular country; however, there are more than 200 million Muslims in India, the second largest cohort of Muslims in the world, after Indonesia.)
“In India we say God resides in that house where there’s a woman but that has evaporated because of all this greed. We need to emphasize the spiritual wealth a girl brings to a family, but we also need to support them with financial subsidies and jobs,” she added.
(Muna Khan, Senior Correspondent for Al Arabiya English, can be reached at email@example.com)