I started recording the audiobook yesterday. I'll be posting the prologue, from the first book of the The Gold Stone Girl Series, both written and audio versions, in the coming days.
Perhaps, as Mina's story unfolds, readers/listeners may wonder at the impetus for this dystopian feminist fantasy.
The world we live in is not kind, especially to women.
What is infanticide?
Infanticide is the unlawful killing of very young children. It is found in both indigenous and sophisticated cultures around the world.
Female infanticide is the deliberate killing of girl babies.
It is also described as gender-selective killing or "gendercide". (Similar words like 'gynocide' and 'femicide' are used to describe the killing of females of any age.)
Female infanticide is more common than male infanticide, and in some countries, particularly India and China, is likely to have serious consequences on the balance of the sexes in the population.
The reasons behind it are almost always cultural, rather than directly religious.
Societies that practise female infanticide always show many other signs of bias against females.
Women are perceived as subservient because of their role as carers and homemakers, whilst men predominantly ensure the family's social and economic stability.
Girl babies are often killed for financial reasons.
- Earning power: Men are usually the main income-earners, either because they are more employable or earn higher wages for the same work, or because they are able to do more agricultural work in subsistence economies. Since male babies have a greater income potential, they are less likely to be killed.
- Potential pensions: In many societies, parents depend on their children to look after them in old age. But in many of these cultures a girl leaves her parental family and joins her husband's family when she marries. The result is that parents with sons gain extra resources for their old age, when their sons marry, while parents with daughters lose their 'potential pensions' when they marry and move away. This gives parents a strong reason to prefer male children. Some parents (particularly poor ones) who can't afford to support a large family, will kill female babies. Girls are considered a drain on family resources during their childhood without bringing economic benefits later on.
- Dowry: Some girl babies are killed so that the family doesn't have to pay a dowry when they get married. In Indian society it is tradition for the parents of the bride to give a dowry to the groom and his family. The dowry consists of large amounts of money and valuable goods. For families with several daughters this can be a serious financial burden.
Governmental policies have also increased female infanticide as an unpredicted side-effect. For example, when the Chinese Government introduced a One Child per Family Policy there was a surge in female infanticide. Families needed to have a son because of their higher earning potential, so a girl baby was an economic disaster for them, and there was a strong motive to ensure that girl babies did not survive.
Some female infants are killed because they are regarded as being lower in the caste hierarchy than males.
Where does female infanticide occur?
Female infanticide is a significant problem in parts of Asia - infanticide does occur in the West, but usually as isolated family tragedies with no underlying pattern or gender bias.
Female infanticide and female foeticide (the selective abortion of girls in the womb) are significant issues in India.
Female infanticide has been a problem for centuries, partly as a result of the patriarchal nature of Indian society.
Tackling the issue
Modern India has tried several ways to tackle the issue. One initiative in the state of Tamil Nadu was taken to attack the underlying economic problems.
Where parents had one or two daughters but no son, and either of the parents was willing to be sterilised, the government offered the parents money to help look after the children. This money was to be paid annually throughout the daughter's education, followed by a lump sum on her twentieth birthday, either for use as a dowry or to fund further education.
Female infanticide has existed in China for a long time, and although the One Child per Family policy has added to the problem, it didn't cause it.
The One Child Policy was introduced by the Chinese Government in 1979 with the intention of keeping the population within sustainable limits even in the face of natural disasters and poor harvests, and improving the quality of life for the Chinese population as a whole.
Under the policy, parents who have more than one child may have their wages reduced and be denied some social services.
Despite the egalitarian nature of Chinese society, many parents believe that having a son is a vital element of providing for their old age. Therefore in extreme cases, a baby is killed if it is not of the preferred sex, because of the pressure not to have more than one child.
Tackling the issue
The Chinese Government have acknowledged the problem and introduced laws to deal with it:
- Marriage law prohibits female infanticide.
- Women's Protection Law prohibits infanticide and bans discrimination against women who choose to keep female babies.
- Maternal Health Care Law forbids the use of technological advances, such as ultra-sound machines, to establish the sex of foetuses, so as not to pre-determine the fate of female infants or encourage selective abortion.
Origins of infanticide
Infanticide occurs in most cases as a way of restricting poverty and population. Throughout history infanticide has been regarded as a productive and efficient way to control starvation and poor standards of living caused by over population.
The male bias in China is deeply rooted in Chinese traditions which leads parents to want their first child to be a boy.
Confucianism regards male children as more desirable since they provide security for the elderly, work and are important for the performance of ancestral rites.
Hindu authorities condemn infanticide.
Son-preference in Hindu cultures is largely based on the fact that men are better providers, and that sons are required for the proper performance of funeral rites.
Some writers argue that Hindu culture has long had a patriarchal bias against women.
Sikh authorities condemn infanticide.
The Sikh religion is one of the most gender-neutral, and explicitly proclaims the equality of men and women. This makes it more surprising that censuses in India show there are far more male children than female children in the Sikh community.
In practice there does appear to be a strong preference for boys in the Sikh heartland. The community appears to give greater respect to the parents of boys, and boys themselves.
In response the Sikh religious organisation Akal Takht has re-emphasised that women are equal to men. It has banned neo-natal sex identification, selective abortion and the killing of female babies.
Islam has always condemned infanticide.
Female infanticide was common in pre-Islamic Arabia. However, by the time of Muhammad, and the revelation of the Qur'an female infanticide was strictly forbidden, and regarded as seriously as adult murder.
The Qur'an on female infanticide:
When the infant girl, is buried alive, is questioned, for what crime she was killed.Surah 81 v 8 - 9
You shall not kill your children for fear of want. We will provide for them and for you. To kill them is a grievous sin.Surah 17 v 31
Christianity has always condemned infanticide.
Judaism has always condemned infanticide.