Programs Hope to End Female Infanticide in India: USAID Chief (Video)

USAID Administrator Raj Shah

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Washington, DC – The top Indian American in the Obama Administration seemed upbeat about US engagement and cooperation as he briefed Washington journalists on Wednesday, March 13, after his latest trip to India and Burma.

Raj Shah, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) told journalists at a special briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, DC that the US has resolved not only to eliminate unnecessary child deaths but also to help India stop female infanticide.

“We are working with the Government of India and with a host of private sector partners in India to address preventable child death in a holistic manner,” said Shah.

Female infanticide (the killing of infant girls) in India is leading to an ever-increasing imbalance in the sex ratio. In 2012, a governmental body report said that nearly three million girls were “missing” in 2011, as compared to 2001, and there are now 48 fewer girls per 1,000 boys than there were in 1981. The decline in female children is greatest in the age group of birth to six years old.

India has a deeply entrenched societal view of female children as a burden on the family. This notion is perpetuated by the low status of women in Indian society, as well as the dowry system, in which a bride’s family is expected to give large sums of money and goods to the husband’s family, with which she will live after marriage. Because even a modest dowry price can bring financial hardship on a family, female infanticide is often considered the only option.

Answering a question from India America Today, Shah noted that prevention of female infanticide was “very much a part” of the current efforts. Ongoing programs are addressing “the very stark reality that girls are discriminated against in many different areas,” he added, “and especially the critical issues you’re raising with respect to girl infanticide and other issues.”

Shah said the US was not fully funding the programs, but the latest models were aiming “to bring the kinds of public-private partnerships to bear so that India can be successful in its own effort in this regard. And we’re excited that that appears to be working.”

The USAID administrator said that Mukesh Ambani from Reliance Enterprises and a number of other business leaders are involved in the public-private partnership (PPP). “Because of their involvement, we sense that the Indian Government, which has a lot of motivation and leadership on this, is even more focused on doing this work in a results-oriented way and breaking through the bureaucracy,” he said.

Shah gave another example of the role of PPPs in the treatment and eradication of tuberculosis, saying, “our partnership with the Hinduja family and hospital is helping to provide more capacity for new technologies like the gene expert diagnostic test to be rolled out across India by the government in partnership with us and Hinduja.”

The United States is working to assist India in becoming an emerging development partner with other countries, Shah observed, saying, “While I was in India, there were more than 200 African agricultural fellows training and learning in Indian universities. That’s a direct result of Partnership for an Evergreen Revolution that we launched between President (Barack) Obama and Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh.”

“Indian-developed agricultural technologies are spreading across the region with our support and in partnership with us in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and that’s helping to move millions of people out of a condition of hunger and extreme poverty,” said Shah.

The US is also conducting outreach to women in Afghanistan, noted Shah, saying, “We’ve partnered with the group called SEWA in India, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, to work with their Afghan counterparts and ensure that as this important transition happens in Afghanistan, women are empowered and active and have a real voice.”

Shah stated he is optimistic about the future of the Obama Administration’s cooperation with India, telling journalists, “We’ll continue as a public-private partnership … The Indian Government is standing up its own form of USAID. We’ve been a partner in helping them think that through, design and execute on that ambition, and we believe over time that that’s the direction this program should go.”

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