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India Launches Campaign to Save, Educate Girls

FILE - Indian girls hold hands and wade through a waterlogged street .

“We cannot be counted as citizens of the 21st century" Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a hard-hitting message to the country during the launch of a nationwide campaign to save and educate girls.

Modi said the practice of aborting female fetuses is worse than an 18th century mindset because girls are being killed even before they are born. The prime minister said placing sons above daughters is a psychological illness of the entire country, and he called for a social awakening to treat girls on par with boys.

Modi said no mother wants to get rid of her child, but family and social pressures make her complicit in this crime.

In traditional Indian culture, sons are looked upon as assets - breadwinners and caretakers of their parents in their old age. Girls are regarded as a liability because parents have to give a dowry when she marries. Studies show that since ultrasounds made sex determination possible, as many as 12 million girls may have been aborted during the past four decades in India.

Modi launched the campaign to “Save the Daughter, Teach the Daughter” in Panipat in the northern Haryana state, a prosperous region that has the lowest number of girls to boys in the country - 879 for 1,000 males. The national average is 917 girls for 1,000 males.

The program is aimed at improving the child sex ratio and gender equality through education and will focus on 100 districts where the gender ratio is critical. Among a host of measures, it will enforce existing laws that ban female feticide and improve attendance of girls in schools.

Maneka Gandhi, Women and Child Development Minister, said the gender situation is dire in some states like Haryana. She said the situation is so bad that according to government estimates no girls have been born for many years in 70 villages. Gandhi added that in some villages there are only 500 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Female feticide takes place across economic classes and urban and rural areas, even better off and more educated women living in cities often prefer sons.

Asking people where they would get daughters in law if girls are not born, the prime minister said that for every 1,000 boys, 1,000 girls should be born. He called for a commitment from all states, villages, and local councils in the country to join hands in this goal.

A U.N. study last year warned the dwindling number of girls in the country has reached “emergency proportions” and is fueling an increase in crime such as kidnapping and trafficking of women.

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