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To combat the ever-worsening gender ratio in India, government officials are unveiling a new plan to pay poor women and their families to avoid sex-selection abortions and infanticides.

Authorities hope the payments will stop the estimated 500,000 deaths of girl babies from both practices.

The cash payments will send approximately 15,500 rupees (or about $384 US) to families. Although the amount appears small by Western standards, it’s a huge sum of money to poor Indian families.

The Indian government says it hopes as many as 100,000 girls will be saved from the deadly practices in the first year alone in the trial program, which begins in seven states.

As additional incentive, girls who become 18 get will another 100,000 rupees ($2,500 US) if they have completed their education and have not yet been married.

According to a London Guardian report, Renuka Chowdhury, the women and children development minister, talked with the media about the new program.

“We will pay the money in stages and monitor how they are brought up,” she said. “We think this will force the families to look upon the girl as an asset rather than a liability and will certainly help us save the girl child.”

Some detractors questioned what effect the plan would have in more wealthy areas of the Asian nation, where prosperous families can afford to pay black market prices for ultrasounds and secret abortions.

“It is the urban middle classes who can also afford the ultrasound tests to determine the sex of the foetus,” anti-infanticide activist Sabu George told the Guardian. “That is really the problem. The poor are copying the behavior of the richer people in India.”

Even in poor communities, some families would rather pay two months’ salary for an illegal ultrasound and abortion rather than years’ worth of income on expensive dowries.

Officials in India have been working overtime to try to halt the practices, but the illegal use of ultrasounds continues and is allowing parents to kill unwanted girl babies.

The skewed male-female ratio in India reflects a trend of having smaller families.

Couples are choosing to have only one child and deciding to only have a boy. India follows the beliefs of other Asian nations in favoring boys to carry on work and family names and because girls must have expensive dowries upon their marriage.

In December 2006, a new report by UNICEF indicated 7,000 fewer female babies are born every day because parents can determine the sex of their unborn baby and kill her before birth.

In 80 percent of India’s districts, a higher percentage of boys are born now than a decade ago.

The report cites the increased availability of cheap ultrasound technology as playing a role despite attempts by the India government to crack down on its use.

UNICEF says the resulting gender imbalance from sex selection abortions is particularly prevalent in the wealthier regions of the nation where access to the ultrasound technology is easier.

UNICEF based the findings on Indian census data and they follow a report in early 2006 from the British medical journal Lancet, which estimated that 10 million baby girls have probably been aborted in the last 20 years.

[3March08, Ertelt, New Delhi, India]