A 2013 State Department report on human trafficking says there are 26 million people around the world who are victims of modern day slavery, many of them young girls. The problem is a growing concern, particularly in India. In a recent interview with VOA, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter talked about the problem, which is addressed in his new book A Call to Action.
Carter calls the abuse and neglect of women the worst human rights violation on the planet.
"The most serious problem is murder of baby girls by their parents, the abortion of a girl fetus if the parents find out she's going to be female," he said.
Perhaps nowhere is that problem more evident, says Carter, than in India, where a growing shortage of women is attracting more human trafficking.
"Nepal is the source of much of the female slavery going into India. India has a great shortage of women, not only for wives, but also for prostitution," he said.
University of Chicago law professor Sital Kalantry says the disparity in India can be traced to the use of technology to aid pregnancy.
"In the '80s the ultrasound technology gained popularity in India, which allowed people to identify the sex of the fetus," said Kalantry. "Due to women's structural positions in society, and the idea that women are burdens, many individuals chose to abort female fetuses. And now, twenty years later, what has happened, in some regions in India, there is a shortage of fifteen to twenty percent of women. So there are large masses of men who will never be married in India, so often you will not only see trafficking, but you see brides brought in from other countries like Nepal for marriages."
Carter explains how parents are lured by promises.
"They tell the parents of a girl, 'Why don't you let us take your daughter? We'll teach her how to be a teacher, a beautician, or a nurse. We'll make sure she sends a fourth of her income back to you to support your poor family.' The parents think they're doing their daughter a favor. The first night she's there with the handlers now, the slave sellers, they drug the girl. They rape the girl. They debase the girl."
Need to change perceptions of women
Law professor Sital Kalantry says the government of India has tried to reverse the problem by curbing access to ultrasound technology and abortions, but continued demand has driven the market underground.
"It's still widely available. There's illegal ultrasounds, and doctors and medical technicians profiting from doing sex determination tests," said Kalantry.
Both Carter and Kalantry say to reverse the trend, and balance the gender gap, each society needs a long-term approach that includes changing perceptions of women.
"It will only really be resolved when we give women more opportunities in society. Where women are valued, where education for women is valued, where economic independence is valued, where women aren't seen as economic burdens," said Kalantry.
It is estimated that there are 7 million fewer girls than boys under age six in India, a statistic that underscores the need to educate and promote female roles and gender equality.