Grim motives behind infant killings
In the first of a two-part report examining infanticide in India, CNN's Satinder Bindra looks into the social environment that can drive parents to kill their baby girls.
SALEM, India (CNN) -- Fifteen hours after a baby girl was buried alive by her father in central India, police managed to pull her out -- and she was still alive.
Police say the baby survived because she had been buried among stones and there was enough space for her to breathe.
Every year, thousands of baby girls in India are murdered by their own parents.
Sociologists blame such killings on a widely held Indian belief that girls are an economic drain because families still have to pay expensive dowries at the time of their marriage.
Authorities have said that over the past few years, more than 4,500 female babies in India's southern Salem district alone have been killed -- by their own parents.
Social scientists say the severity of the problem of selective abortions is so bad, the country's gender birth ratio shows there are 880 females for every 1,000 males.
Modern technology has only worsened the phenomena. While infanticide has long been practiced, female foeticide is a relatively new phenomenon.
Over the past decade, inexpensive access to ultrasound technology has led to many families determining the sex of an unborn child and then aborting it if it is found to be female.
New laws and an aggressive intervention program mean fewer girls in Salem are being murdered.
But the practice of female infanticide continues.
Officials in this south Indian city have put the word out to parents they will treat every suspicious infant death as a homicide.
Police, however, are still finding the shallow graves of babies and say more than a hundred female children here are killed by their parents every year.
A Salem woman sits crushing grain as she tells CNN she has to live the rest of her life with the pain and guilt of knowing she murdered her own new born baby girl.
"I wanted to keep the baby. But people around me said, 'You have three daughters. Why do you want to have yet another one?' How can I kill her, I asked?"
"They suggested giving the baby something that would kill her. So I got some tobacco leaves, mixed it with water and gave it to the baby. She died.''
In the southern Indian district of Salem, such murders are fairly common.
In this region alone officials say that over the past year about one hundred female children have been murdered by their own parents. Some were asphyxiated, others poisoned or starved and many just left to die in sewers and garbage dumps.
Sociologists blame such killings on a deep-rooted gender bias.
Compared to boys, girls are believed to be an economic drain because it is still customary to pay the husband's family expensive, albeit iillegal, dowries at the time of their marriage.
So harsh is the dowry system, it can bankrupt a poor family with more than one daughter.
One man told CNN that raising young girls was like "watering your neighbor's lawn."
To control female infanticide, officials in southern India have launched a program called the Cradle Baby Scheme to convince parents not to kill, but surrender unwanted baby girls to the state.
So far more than 420 baby girls have been handed over to state officials, who claim every baby surrendered is a life saved.
Parents like Kamala Palanisami agree.
Six months ago when she gave birth to her sixth child, a baby girl, Palanisami decided to give her to the state.
"I felt one daughter was enough, five children were enough. This child should get a better life -- so I gave her up,'' said Palanisami.
This woman who killed her baby also says it is poverty that drives parents to murder.
"If I could have clothed, fed and given the baby a decent life I wouldn't have done what I did.''
Officials are now trying to educate more women and find them higher paying jobs so they are better able to save their children and this region from so much suffering and shame.
Part two of this report: Finding new homes