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A government poster in India

Caste council vows to fight female feticide

Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi

November 23 2010

A powerful caste council's decision to fight female feticide will help save reverse the dwindling number of girl children born in India, Church and human rights activists say.

"It is a highly commendable and welcome move," Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India told on Nov. 22.

The council, known as a khap panchayat, in Uttar Pradesh state has demanded strict laws against the abortion of girl children. A khap, or a cluster of villages bonded by caste

Society in India is divided into four main castes and hundreds of sub-castes. Each sub-caste has a council that decides on disputes and community issues, including marriages, although it has no legal authority.

Some khaps reportedly suppress women's rights and indulge in honor killing if someone marries outside the caste.

But last week, a khap in Muzaffarnagar district blasted the government for not enforcing existing laws prohibiting sex selection of babies. It pledged to protect girl children.

Father Joseph says the caste council's demand was justified and said he hopes that more groups will follow the example to help end gender discrimination.

Neelam Singh, founder of Vatsalya, a NGO fighting female feticide, noted that the practice is rampant in several districts of Uttar Pradesh.

The state has an average 898 women for 1,000 men, but in some districts the sex ratio is as low as 841-1,000.

Nazareth Sister Ann Moyalan, who works among slum women in New Delhi, said the khap decision shows "a positive attitude to the girl child."

The number of feticides was "a very sad and shameful phenomenon in modern world," Sister Moyalan said.

Jyotsna Chatterji, who directs the Joint Women Program of the Protestant Church of North India, wants the khap to end honor killing too.

"They can't have a double standard approach. On the one hand they practice honor killing and on the other oppose feticide. They should be sincere if they really care for women," she told

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