Noel Yeatts: Millions of girls are missing in India — Here’s why you should care

In the past three months, 216 babies were born in a handful of villages across northern India, according to a recent report. Not a single one of those babies was a girl.

This was no crazy coincidence or fluke.

Today the topic of abortion is trending as strongly as ever before, especially with Democratic presidential nominating race heating up. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, abortion is certainly a women’s issue in India. But not for the reasons you might think.

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Indian baby girls are being aborted simply because of their gender. For a family living in poverty, a house full of sons is deemed more profitable, since they are considered the main breadwinners. Afraid of what a daughter will cost, many families choose to simply never have one.

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Despite the fact that gender-selective abortions were outlawed by the Indian government in 1994, the practice still occurs. This is why so many baby girls were “missing” from those northern Indian villages. And it’s just one example of a much larger trend across the country.

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While many other nations have either a balanced gender ratio or one that tips in favor of females, India’s population is skewed. As of 2018, there were only 92 females for every 100 males in the country. According to the data, India is home to 63 million fewer women than it should be.

The Banchara have a centuries-old tradition called "nari mata." According to this tradition, the oldest daughter of each family is expected to become a sex worker — sometimes as young as 12 years old.

When I look at these numbers, all I can think about are the girls I have met on my trips to India. These statistics and stories remind me that there are places around the world where women are still not valued. They receive less access to education and fewer job opportunities. They are viewed as property, something to either toss away or use for profit.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen progress in the fight for better treatment of women in many countries. Women are now able to have a voice that has been denied them for centuries. But when I read about India’s missing females, I remember that the fight for freedom isn’t over.

In India’s Banchara community, women are considered valuable only if they provide financially for their families. Although these females were allowed to live, they are thrust into a life of pain and abuse. They might not go “missing” at birth, but they will live their lives on the outskirts of society with no voice, no choice and no freedom.

The Banchara have a centuries-old tradition called "nari mata." According to this tradition, the oldest daughter of each family is expected to become a sex worker — sometimes as young as 12 years old.

The reason? To pay for her brothers' marriage dowries so they can make a good match and go on to have more sons.

Meanwhile, she will likely spend her entire life selling herself to pay off the debt, or at least until she is too sick with STDs to continue working.

These girls, who become sex workers when they are barely teenagers, are trapped in a form of culturally mandated slavery. And they are raised to believe there is no way out.

But there is a way out. When women are taught there is another option, given access to education, and surrounded with a supportive community, they are able to thrive.

This is exactly what our organization, World Help, is doing at our "Freedom Home" located in the heart of the Banchara community. As the girls in this home grow up and have a chance to start their own careers, they are able to give back to their families, their communities, and their countries.

And statistics show that investing in girls improves health, delays marriage, prevents early pregnancies, and improves economies.

These girls are able to show how valuable they truly are — just as valuable as any boy.

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Only when this happens will practices like nari mata and gender-based abortions finally come to an end.

These may be “women’s issues,” but they are so much more than that. Valuing women quite literally can change the world. And by working to set women free through education, vocational training and more, we can make sure that in the future, there are no more missing girls.