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Irish Senate debates infanticide, gendercide, China and India

Leinster House. Photo: Flickr/Carlos el hormigo.As far back as 1990, future Nobel prizewinner, economist Amartya Sen wrote in the New York Review of Books that "a great many more than 100 million women are 'missing' due to inequality and neglect. He described it as "clearly one of the more momentous, and neglected, problems facing the world today."

Yet, two decades later, the problem persists. The World Bank recently reported that nearly 4 million women under 60 and girls still go "missing" each year due to pre-birth discrimination (95% in China and India) or excess mortality after birth (mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, India and China). In total, over two million women and girls go missing in India and China every year.

The issue was debated in the Irish Senate on October 26. A motion (below) condemning "gendercide" - a term previously used by The Economist and others - was put by independent Senator Rónán Mullen, which called for pressure to be put on China and India, in particular.

A shorter amended motion (below) was put by Senator Ivana Bacik of Labour. It condemned "female infanticide and all other violations of the rights of women and girls" although it did not name any country nor refer to selective abortion or gendercide.

The amended motion also commended the Irish government's efforts to combat all forms of gender based violence (GBV). The Irish Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence, of which Irish Aid is a member, highlights the seriousness and extent of GBV on its website, including the fact that "at least 60 million girls are ‘missing’ worldwide as a result of sex selective abortions, infanticide or neglect". (The Consortium’s 2011 Annual Conference: Addressing Gender Based Violence in Fragile States is taking place in Dublin on November 25th.)

Senator Bacik argued that gendercide was not a fully accepted term. She also said: "It would be wrong to single out China and India and suggest problems covered by what could be meant by gendercide are to be found solely in these countries. It would also be wrong to suggest the governments of these countries somehow tolerate or promote, as the motion states, this practice."

Senator Aideen Hayden, also of Labour, said that the original wording would be counter-productive as her research "has shown that China and India are taking measures to counter gendercide".

Senator Mullen responded by claiming that "the Chinese government backed away from a law that would have prohibited abortion on gender grounds". He continued: "...the Indian law is largely under used. That is the reason the Government should keep up the pressure on China and India as culprits."

The amended motion was passed but was subsequently criticised by Senator Mullen and by journalist Breda O'Brien.


Motion put to the Irish Senate by Senator Rónán Mullen, October 26, 2011

That Seanad Éireann, noting that:

- gendercide involves selective abortion, infanticide or fatal neglect of baby girls after birth;

- gendercide is one of the most horrific human rights abuses present in the world today and perhaps the most widespread form of violent anti-female discrimination;

- the scale of the problem has been comprehensively documented at UN level and in US Congressional reports as well as by reputable journalists in cover story articles in The Economist, Time and Newsweek, among others; and that

- opposition to gendercide unites people with significantly different perspectives on the issue of abortion generally;

calls on the Government to:

- bring diplomatic pressure to bear on the governments of various states, and in particular China and India, which either promote gendercide or tolerate the problem within their borders;

- raise the issue of gendercide at UN and EU level, with a view to proactively challenging states such as China and India to abandon coercive population limitation policies, to repeal laws that reinforce bias against baby girls, and to take steps to counter the negative cultural attitudes towards women that underpin and motivate the bias against baby girls, leading to gendercide; and

- ensure that recipients of Irish foreign aid do not promote gendercide.

Amended motion put by Senator Ivana Bacik (Passed 28:9)

“Seanad Éireann, condemning in the strongest terms female infanticide and all other violations of the rights of women and girls,

— commends the Government’s firm opposition to such practices and its efforts to combat all forms of gender-based violence;

— endorses the Government’s strong support for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through its Official Development Assistance Programme.”

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