Little girls bear the scars of an ancient bias

Their only crime was being born a girl - into a society where women are still very much second class citizens.

Local company Friendly Faces brought some of their young staff to India back in June this year to see the plight of children at the Bethel Agricultural Fellowship orphanage near Bangalore.

Martin Dickson, Elaine Thompson, Kathryn King, Joy Douglas, Laura King, Amy Stafford, Etain Callaghan, James Stafford in a slum in India.

Martin Dickson, Elaine Thompson, Kathryn King, Joy Douglas, Laura King, Amy Stafford, Etain Callaghan, James Stafford in a slum in India.

Brother and sister, James and Amy Stafford, were among the 11 people who travelled.

“I know you hear this all the time from people who travel into these situations, but it was a genuinely life-changing experience for me”, said Amy. “To see and compare the plight of these children with our own situations is just night and day, and a real eye opener.”

James explained that female infanticide is still very strong in the area of India that they visited. “There’s still this ancient desire to have a male child rather than a female. So many women when pregnant try to abort female babies themselves, often by drinking acid or other such crazy methods. This results in many babies being born deformed and those are the babies that we were dealing with.”

Indeed companies trading in pills designed to induce abortions trade on a ruthless catchline - one tells potential customers ‘Spend a few rupees now and save thousands later’.

It all stems from the place of women in that society where their earning power is much lower than men and by tradition when a marriage happens the family of the bride is left facing a hefty bill.

James said as a result of this bias the orphanage is predominantly populated by girls, many bearing the scars and disfigurements of botched abortions. As well as the extreme methods he pointed to expectant mothers who find out they are having a girl at an early stage and try starving themselves in an attempt to induce a miscarriage, again with dreadful consequences for the development of the child in the womb should that effort fail.

The orphanage is on the outskirts of the city and children will be left quite literally at the side of the road on their doorstep.

And while those caring for the children are doing their best, the conditions they are living in are quite simply horrific.

James explained; “Really young babies, going up to six months old are kept in steel cribs, they might have a half broken toy in with them.”

It doesn’t get much better for the older children who have their own grim area, dominated by a TV playing a fuzzy copy of the same video over and over again, existing but hardly living. Maggots team on the floor - an image which struck all of the team.

It’s hoped that with the help of funds raised by Friendly Faces more can be done to raise the standard of accommodation for these children nobody wanted.

It becomes all the more shocking as James revealed the numbers of children there - with 300-400 in the orphanage’s care.

Life isn’t any better on the outside with poverty reaching heartrending levels in the slums of the city - the only respite for children lucky enough is the school funded by other charities and organisations.

The team visited one of these schools and a pupil brought them to see his home, and it was stepping from one world into another.

The child took great pride in showing them his home - a shack no bigger than the garden shed many of us would have at home. That shack housed a family of six. James said: “The conditions made us sick at our stomachs.”

A visit to a local market also challenged western attitudes with the items on display crawling with flies and maggots, James said: “It was so bad you wouldn’t have even touched it, never mind eat it.”

On their arrival the team had brought the orphans gifts of balloons, on their departure they were to see the warmth and generosity of those who have nothing as the children presented them with parting gifts - all they had - those same balloons. They also staged a parting show with the children telling them how much they had enjoyed the visit.

For James: “It was a truly grounding experience.”