Indian girls are safe
Prema gently strokes her daughter Kajal's hair. The eleven year old has just come home from school with her older sister Pooja.
"When Pooja was born, everyone was still happy. During the second pregnancy everyone said: You will have a son this time. But it was a daughter again. That made my husband very sick. He cursed me. He hit me. I want one Son, he shouted, why are you giving birth to a daughter? Other women manage to have sons too. "
Then came the moment when Prema learned to fight.
"One day my husband went too far. He hit our older daughter with a wooden slat. Her head was bleeding, she had to go to the hospital. He threatened to kill both girls."
Allegations from their own family
At home, with her family, Prema found no protection. Everyone blamed them for the supposed misery.
"My brothers forced me to go back to my husband. They said even when he beats you: It is your duty to stay with your husband."
Prema became pregnant again. She vomited initially, just as she had with previous pregnancies. Her husband and parents-in-law took this as a sign that she was carrying a girl again.
"That's when my mother-in-law asked my husband to leave me and file for divorce. I was on my own. My daughters and I didn't even have enough money to eat properly."
"That leads to a genocide"
Prema's story sounds extreme, but it's not by Indian standards. Even the government now had to admit that more than 20 million girls live in the country who are simply not wanted. According to this, two million girls are missing every year - either they are aborted, murdered after birth - or they die of neglect. Sejho Singh heads an organization in New Delhi that aims to empower girls in India.
"In South Asia there is this preference for boys. That has to do with the stinginess of many people. For girls, a dowry is still often due at the wedding. Sons, on the other hand, are considered a guarantor of material prosperity. It is very cheap to do ultrasound tests here . That leads to genocide. We estimate that these tests kill up to nine thousand girls every day. "
In India it is forbidden to tell parents the supposed gender of the child during an ultrasound examination. But it is the wealthier Indians who, according to Sejho Singh, are especially obsessed with boys. You can afford to bribe medical professionals. Or they have doctors in their circle of friends.
"But now this virus is also spreading in other, poorer classes of society. That is particularly alarming."
Fewer and fewer girls are born
According to the 2011 census, there are only 914 girls for every 1,000 boys; 30 years ago there were around 960 girls. Especially in northern India, where the social conditions are particularly rough, many more boys than girls are born. "
Prema, who was cursed by her in-laws, comes from a poor background. After she was on her own, pregnant and with two daughters, she had to get by with odd jobs as a cleaning lady. She only lived on bread and salt, she says.
Determined to fight out the fight against the husband: The mother Prema with her daughters Pooja, left, and Kajal, right (Jürgen Webermann / ARD)
"The doctors said I was too weak for a normal birth. That either the baby or I would die. But it still worked. And it was a boy. Weighing four kilograms."
"After all, he doesn't hit our girls anymore"
As soon as the little one was there, the husband stood at Prema's door. He asked for forgiveness.
"I had to forgive him. The people here already believed that I had a bad character because I lived alone. But my husband's head is really full of cow dung. Now he doesn't want me to spend any more money on my daughters' education. After all, he doesn't hit our girls anymore. "
Kajal dreams of becoming a teacher and Pooja would like to study medicine. Her mother Prema says she is determined to fight this fight against her husband as well. She has since given birth to a second boy. Her husband wants more sons now that it seems to be working. But Prema had itself sterilized. Secretly. When she talks about it, she smiles.
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