Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Accursed Child

In this modern era where cell phones and Botox change our lifestyles, our thinking is still not much different from the dark ages.

If you browse through any Urdu newspaper to the classified section, you might come across an ad that says "بیٹا" (son) in a big font. If you read, it says "Insha-Allah beta ho ga" (God-willing, it'll be a son). Not just in the newspaper, these people have started sending spam text messages like "Boy or girl, choice is yours". Staring us in the face, this is a gruesome reality that tells us our thinking has not evolved at all.

The stigma attached to the birth of a female child is undeniable in our society. No matter which class you belong to, every family (with both father and mother) wants their next child to be a son. Men go as far as marrying multiple wives just because they believe a particular woman is "meant" only to bear girls. So much so, that I once heard a woman respond to the news of a female birth as "Oho! Kuch nahi hota" (Oho! It's okay). For all those protesting against the honor killings of women in the rural areas, I ask the question, why do you ignore those lamenting the birth of girls in the first place in the urban areas?

One of the major reasons for this stigma, which again no one talks about, is the tradition of dowry. This tradition is in direct contrast to the teachings of Islam which in fact make it obligatory for the groom to pay the bride upon marriage in the form of Mahr. The moment a girl is born, the first thought in her father's mind is about her dowry, not her name. I have seen well-educated and noble families sending lists of articles they wanted as dowry with a bride. A family, on average, spends more than one million rupees ($11,700) to marry their daughter off. This is in sharp contrast to the generally accepted limit of Mahr, which is one month's salary of the husband. And even that is spared "willfully" by the bride. Furthermore, Mahr is often mistaken as an amount that is to be given upon dissolution of marriage. Ergo, the following consequences.

In the major cities, among the 1210 infants found dead in 2010 by Edhi Foundation, 9 out of 10 were female.

Even though the ratio of male: female is 1 male/ female upon birth, it rises to 1.06 males/ female for the ages 0-14 years.

Along with this, we hear stories of both blatant murders and increasing burning "accidents" right after marriage.

All said and done, the future is still a big question mark. Such thinking and associated traditions are engraved deeply in our minds generation after generation. As long as the stigma attached to the female child is there, it'll show our immaturity as humans, let alone as a nation.

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