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Indian Girls Forced to Undergo Sex Reassignment Surgeries

Indian Girls Forced to Undergo Sex Reassignment Surgeries

There’s already a significant media controversy over the issue of sex-selective abortion in India because of parents’ preference for boy children, but now, some are reporting that parents are trying to “convert” girls into boys in the months after birth.  Earlier this week, the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the health department in the province of Madhya Pradesh launched an investigation into allegations that parents are using corrupt surgeons to surgically change girls’ genitals because they wanted boys instead.

The Hindustan Times broke the story with a series of pieces claiming that doctors in the city of Indore say they have turned between 200 and 300 girls into boys.  The operations were fairly inexpensive, but they’re also recommended only for children whose internal genital organs do not match their external organs.  The surgeries are called genitoplasty, which refashions external genital organs; children are also given additional hormonal treatments.  But experts warn that these procedures should only be followed in a small minority of cases.

“Genitoplasty is possible on a normal baby of both sexes but later on, these organs will not grow with the hormonal influence and this will lead to infertility and impotency. It is shocking news and we will be looking into it and taking corrective measures,” said the president of the India Academy of Pediatrics in Indore.

One thing should be clear: this practice is controversial, but it isn’t limited to India.  In the United States, children born with “ambiguous” genital organs are still determined to need these surgeries, despite potential risks.  This, for some intersex activists, is a problem.  In fact, they often refer to the surgery as medical abuse, saying that genitoplasties are rarely medically necessary.

The fact that the parents of intersex children should be able to choose their children’s gender – surgically, if necessary – does not seem to be debated in India, however.  The disturbing element of the surgeries that are being investigated in Indore is the fact that these procedures are becoming normalized as part of a cultural norm in which some families, because of social or financial incentives, value boys more than girls.

So while there is a legitimate and ongoing debate about genital surgery as a whole, this is particularly distressing because it may be part of a larger mindset in which, according to Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research, ”people don’t want to share their property or invest in girls’ education or pay dowries.”

While it’s important to remember that these medical procedures are controversial for other reasons besides the devaluing of women, in this context it seems fairly clear that, assuming these allegations are true, women are suffering as a result of the parents’ choice to reassign their children’s gender.  Although the state could potentially do some harm by creating medical boards to “decide if the surgery is medically required,” it seems undeniable that if an investigation reveals that forced gender reassignment is happening, the government needs to explore solutions, whether it’s education, extending resources or something else entirely.  As with sex-selective abortion, it’s a tricky subject, but something that needs to be investigated further.

Photo from Capitan Giona’s Flickr photostream.

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88 comments

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4:24AM PST on Dec 10, 2011

Always presuming that there IS a God- which inn view of the topic of this article I doubt, don't these 'believers' in SOMETHING realise that their 'God' created these children JUST THE WAY THEY ARE??? By interfering in some mystical plan, they are not only storing up years of trauma for these poor girls( not to mention turning them into NON-FUNCTIONING males), but jeopardising their own good standing in the eyes of their deity. stop this madness now. And prosecute the doctors who are willing to perform the UN necessary surgeries on the IN appropriate children also.

5:07PM PST on Dec 9, 2011

The most complete human madness.

4:59PM PDT on Sep 12, 2011

O--MY--GOD. Could anything be crueler? What happens later, when the "boys" feel like they are girls, living in a boy's body?

11:43PM PDT on Jul 26, 2011

I'm speechless...

4:01PM PDT on Jul 13, 2011

Wow. Nearly 200 people are going to have issues with this when they reach adolescence.

10:34AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

I am beyond speech!

9:17AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

This mind set of preferring the birth of boys to girls is deeply rooted in Indian culture & society. It is sickening that it has come to this!!! As an Indian I am ashamed that this is happening!!!

8:59AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

parents do it just to avoid "dowry" for female child during her marriage. they treat it as a burden.

11:45PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

This is just sick.

9:34AM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

This is a horrendous surgery being performed. It's long-term consequences probably won't be revealed for years. I foresee a complete gender confusion here that could cause suicides and God knows what else. I had thought that India had entered a period of enlightenment with the growth of their economy but apparently it has not made one bit of difference. It is my sincere hope that this procedure is not endorsed by other countries that value the male child. What a terrible and life long burden to be levied on the children.

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