The Indian government plans to set up a series of orphanages to raise unwanted baby girls in a bid to halt the widespread practice of aborting female fetuses, according to a senior government official.
Dubbed the "cradle scheme," the plan is an attempt to slow the practice that international groups say has killed more than 10 million female fetuses in the last two decades, leading to an alarming imbalance in the ratio between males and females in India, Renuka Chowdhury, the minister of state for women and child development, told the Press Trust of India news agency in an interview published Sunday.
"What we are saying to the people is have your children, don't kill them. And if you don't want a girl child, leave her to us," Chowdhury told PTI, adding that the government planned to set up a center in each regional district.
"We will bring up the children. But don't kill them because there really is a crisis situation," she said.
Many districts in the country of more than 1 billion people routinely report only 800 girls born for every 1,000 boys.
According to the latest census figures in India, the number of girls per 1,000 boys declined from 945 to 927 between 1991 and 2001.
Asked if the scheme would not encourage parents to abandon female infants, Chowdhury said: "It doesn't matter. It is better than killing them," PTI reported.
Discrimination against girls stems from the low value attached to females in Indian society. Girls are seen as a burden on the family, requiring a huge dowry which many poor families can ill afford. They are generally the last to be educated or to get medical treatment.
Prenatal sex-determination tests are outlawed in India and the government says it is clamping down on doctors flouting the law. But social activists say there are many loopholes which allow those who provide tests to remain free.
Since the law was enacted only one doctor has been convicted of illegally aborting female fetuses.
Chowdhury did not say how much the scheme would cost but said money had been allocated in the next budget for it.
Officials in her office could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday, the AP said.
The minister said she also hoped that the cradle centers would provide an opportunity for parents who had a change of heart to reclaim their children.
Chowdhury said emergency measures were necessary as evidence indicated that the practice of aborting or killing female children was spreading.
"It is a matter of international and national shame for us that India with an (economic) growth of 9 percent still kills its daughters," she told PTI.