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surrogacy,surrogate mothers,Reuters

It wasn't an easy decision for Meena, nor was it voluntary. It all began after an astrologer told her that it would be a girl. Coming under severe pressure from her family and society, the 28-year- old had taken abortion pills.

Just three days after taking the pill, she started feeling ill; and soon her condition got worse. She could not even stand straight. Still she didn't take rest. Writhing in pain, she went to work in the fields to provide for her children. In the middle of the work, the pain aggravated and she looked for an isolated corner across the field. That's where Meena underwent the much-painful abortion, unattended and solo. Soon she dug up a pit and put an end to that little being.

Meena's is a clear case of forced female foeticide, a rampant phenomenon in Salem. Meena had undergone nine deliveries, including three abortions, until she turned 28.

She was so anaemic that one wondered how she could have endured the painful abortion procedure and also her deliveries. She took abortion pills during the sixth month of her pregnancy.

"The pain is as similar as labour pain," she said. Even such terrible pain could not stop her from having two more abortions.

Though many national dailies report on the issue, female foeticide continues to exist in a rampant form. The issue is, of course, not confined to Salem alone. It's happening in most parts of the country and is yet to show a downward trend.

To make matters more worse, illegal scanning centres and astrologers thrive in Salem. Many, like Meena, are ready to kill their foetus in the womb when an astrologer says it would be a girl.

Geetha, 24 is all tears when she spoke about her two abortions. "People would speak ill of me if I don't deliver a baby boy. That's why I was forced to do it." She had four deliveries and two abortions.

Ultrasound centres and astrologers practise unscrupulous methods to determine gender. For instance, if the first and the second children are female then they say that the third child is also likely to be a girl child. Then they push the mother/elders to commit foeticide.

There also exists another crude form of foeticide – inserting the sap of Arka flowers or Calotropis gigantea into the genitals of the expectant mother.

The scariest thing is that most of these abortions are conducted sans any scientific medical intervention. There are no instructions from doctors. Besides, most of them do not even know the name of the abortion pill.

"It's a small pill but I don't know the name. It costs Rs 500-600," says Selvi.

Ask them how they came to know about the pill, and they say "We got the name from other patients who were there in the scanning centres."

The sex ratio of the district is 929 against the state ratio of 972. The child sex ratio is 918 in the district against the state ratio of 946. The low child sex ratio is a clear indicator that the number of cases of female foeticide is huge in the district.

While the numbers are left as mere statistics in government records, the one question that needs to be constantly asked is, "Is public aware of this reality?"

(Names have been changed in the story to protect the identity of the sources.)