Would You Sell Your Son to Save Your Daughter?

NEW DELHI, India - Indian Father Considered Selling Son to Pay for Operation to Save His Daughter

If you had to choose between your daughter and your son, who would you choose? Could you choose? Those impossible questions from the movie "Sophie's Choice" were very real for Mahesh Rajak, a 45-year-old father of two from the town of Jhansi in central India.

For three years his daughter, 16-year-old Babita, suffered from rheumatic heart disease and needed a $7,500 operation to save her life. Rajak is one of the 800 million Indians who make less than $2 a day and could not afford medical help. So he decided to sell his most prized and only asset: his 13-year-old son, Devendra.

''I want to get my daughter operated upon, but I have no money. This is why I have put up my son for sale,'' Rajak told NDTV, an Indian news channel, last week. 

''I want to live, but my father is a poor man and he has no money for my treatment,'' Babita said.

But today at the Max Devki Devi Heart and Vascular Institute, one of the most expensive hospitals in New Delhi, Babita received her heart surgery, and Rajak did not have to give up his son.

"I have been living with poverty for so many years," Rajak told ABC News through an interpreter. "I was finally able to get her the help she needs today."

The money came from the hospital and NDTV viewers, so touched by the steps he was willing to take to save his daughter that they funded the entire surgery. 

"I don't discriminate between my son and my daughter. I was willing to sell myself for the treatment of my daughter if I had to," Rajak said.

In a country with one of the lowest *** ratios at birth on the planet, Rajak's willingness to part from his son for the benefit of his daughter is a revelation, a choice that is the opposite of the one made by family after family, in villages and in cities, every day and every year.

In Uttar Pradesh, the state where Rajak lives, there are 885 girls younger than four for every 1,000 boys in rural areas, according to 2006 census figures, the latest available. In the United States, the average is closer to 1,050 girls for every 1,000 boys.

The ratio in India has decreased dramatically thanks to systematic abortions and neglect. Advocates argue that 6 million fewer girls are alive today in India than there should be.

"In India, you can kill a daughter and get away with it," Dr. Puneet Bendi, an obstetrician in New Delhi who has been outspoken on the issue of female feticide, told ABC News. "We believe there's a genocide on. To have a genocide you have to make killing palatable to people. Here, abortion is an accepted method of birth control. As is feticide."

But Rajak was willing to do anything to save his daughter, including auctioning off his son to the highest bidder. He hoped to sell Devendra as a laborer temporarily, until his daughter was cured and he saved enough money to buy his son back. 

It is illegal in India to employ anyone younger than 14 in work that is physically demanding. Yet this country has the highest number of working children in the world, according to Human Rights Watch.

"The problem of child labor is huge in India. It's really widespread. Often you can't see it because it's hidden whether it's in people's homes or small little areas of big cities, where children are crammed into little rooms," Shireen Vakil Miller, the head of advocacy and policy for Save the Children in India, told ABC News. "Officially, it's about 13 million children under 14 who are working in hazardous occupations. And unofficially, it's anywhere between 60 to 80 million." 

But Devendra was spared that fate, and Babita spent the afternoon recovering from a 3-hour surgery.

"This is one of the most standard heart operations. There's no big deal to it," Dr. I.S. Virdi, the chief of cardiac surgery at Max Healthcare, told ABC News after he finished the operation. "It went pretty well and she is recovering." 

It was, however, a surgery she would not have needed had she lived in the developed world.

More than 6 out of every 1,000 people living in rural India suffer from rheumatic heart disease, according to studies conducted in the last decade. "Girls and women in particular seem to be severely affected, possibly as a result of being housebound and having to live in overcrowded conditions," reported the journal "Heart" in 2001. "Overpopulation, overcrowding, poverty, and poor access to medical care are undoubtedly the main reasons for the high prevalence of RHD in India." 

It occurs only in .5 people for every 1,000 in the West, according the studies.
"Rheumatic heart disease has been virtually eradicated from developed societies," Virdi says. "It is a disease of the poor people, and this one lady fortuitously got picked up. But there are millions like this lady out in the community who could be benefited" with more awareness.

Virdi says he performs half a dozen similar surgeries each week and would be willing to treat anyone suffering from rheumatic heart disease if NGOs or charities were willing to pay for the costs of the materials and a minimal charge for labor. 

"Millions of people suffer from this in India, and it doesn't have to be," Virdi says. "It occurs in areas where there is hygiene is poor, where there is overcrowding, where there are bad sanitary conditions."

Bebita will remain in the hospital for one week and will have to take a blood thinner and other medications for the rest of her life, costs the family will have to figure out how to absorb.

But for now, after her father was willing to part with his son to save her life, she will never have to worry about the "hole in her heart," as her family called her condition.

"Some dads," Virdi says, "are just obsessed about their daughters."

Via abcnews


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