12 Apr Why Protect the Girl Child ?!
Female infanticide is rampant leading to a skewed sex ratio in India. Girls are killed or sold as the families cannot raise enough dowries to marry off the girl. They are denied education and used for heavy domestic work in many homes. Belittling the girl, giving importance to sons, intimidating words, harassment for dowry and money, wife beating, threatening etc., are actions that leave deep scars.
Ancient Israel had God given laws to protect children and slaves; whereas, the first Slavery Abolition Act in the modern world was passed in 1833. India brought the Domestic Violence Act in 2005 and the Criminal law Act in 2013 following the “Nirbhaya” episode. Most people get away with wrongdoing in spite of these laws.
Let us see how the Old Testament Scriptures recognized the rights of girl children and protected them. The Old Testament laws helped the Israelites progress socially, politically and economically and also ensured people lived in peace and harmony. We will also see how the New Testament Scriptures keep the dignity of all by giving clear instructions on equality of all.
Protection in the Old Testament:
1. From selling a girl as slave (Ex 21: 7 to 11)
In ancient times, buying and selling men and women as slaves or servants were common. Even the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had slaves. Hagar was an Egyptian slave girl. Later the people of Israel gave up slavery when they themselves were slaves in Egypt. They knew the pain of oppression, loss of freedom, identity and dignity as slaves on foreign soil.
But times of drought, famine, poverty and debts forced families to sell their children to be servants to another family within their community. If not the whole family faced starvation, suicide or prostitution. So the practice of selling children as slaves saved the lives of the children.
There were two kinds of slaves, one for household duties and another as bride or concubine. The latter was exposed to the danger of being sold as a concubine but ending up being treated like a servant. If a man wanted to violate the contract and not grant her food, clothing and marital rights, he was commanded by law to let her go. She could not be sold to another person or should be returned to her own parents. This way sexual abuse by masters and trading of women as commodity was banned by law.
2. From Physical injuries (Ex 21: 20 – 22)
Buying a slave to work in the farm or house does not give masters the right to beat or ill-treat slaves. The master can be punished for killing slaves or slaves can go free as compensation for losing an eye or tooth.
The master is responsible for taking care of the injured slave since the slave is a fellow member in the community.
India has the highest number of slaves in the world. Domestic servants, bonded labourers, contract workers, migrant labourers are among the most exploited section of people in our society today. Many work in factories and farms for small wages with nil or minimum benefits and no worker rights.
Israel had laws to protect poor human beings more than a thousand years before Christ was born.
3. From rape (Ex 22:16, Dt. 22:23)
Rape is a crime in all societies. It causes severe physical and psychological scars that permanently scar the mind. This act of violence could kill a woman, or get her pregnant, force her to go for abortion, or deliver an illegitimate child. The girl could also be driven to suicide due to shame.
The Israelite society had laws to prevent rape. The man should marry the girl he seduced and pay the bride a price. If the father refuses to allow the marriage, the culprit must still pay the bride a price of fifty pieces of silver.
If a man seduced a girl betrothed to marry another man, he was to be stoned to death. If the girl was innocent of crime, she could go, or she too could be stoned to death if she had consented to the act.
These laws prohibit rape and protect the girls.
4. From prostitution (Lev 19: 29)
Prostitution is regarded as wrong in all societies but goes on illegally or legally in most. It breeds crime and shows the society as tolerant of evil and crime. In Israel, fathers were prohibited from selling their daughters as prostitutes either due to debt or slavery. He could sell her as servant or slave but not as a sex worker or prostitute.
Prostitution was prohibited in Israel as it was dishonour to God and to the daughter. The people of Israel believed that prostitution defiled the land and led to famine, poverty and plague. They feared losing their land.
5. From Divorce (Dt. 22:13 to 19)
The virginity of the girl and the loyalty of the wife were of utmost importance in ancient Israel. The women were under the control of fathers and brothers and later by husbands. Divorce was rare but later was allowed on certain conditions, like pre-marital and extra marital relationships.
But if a man takes a virgin girl and later falsely accuses her of not being a virgin, then the man is to be punished with a fine of one hundred shekels of silver. She would continue to be his wife as long as he lived. By law, he cannot divorce a girl on flimsy grounds.
If the loss of her virginity before marriage was proved, she was to be stoned to death after the wedding night. Thus marriage was protected from divorce by law.
6. From Sacrifice and sorcery (Lev. 18:21)
The Israelites were warned against worshipping nature and sacrificing their children to Molech, like Canaanites sacrificed their children to Baal, the god of fertility. Children were burnt to death in ritual sacrifices to appease the heathen gods. The law recognized the rights of small children and was against destroying the image of God in them. It brought dishonour to God’s Holy name and so was forbidden as unethical.
Another vile practice of Canaan was dedicating female children to be mediums of evil spirits and misusing them. But Israel was commanded to kill and punish sorcerers. So the children of Israel were protected by law from such evils.
Even now in India, we hear stories of children used as mediums and being offered as sacrifices to gods. Small children and girls are at great risk from such practices followed in society.
Protection in New Testament: (Gal. 3: 26 – 29)
Jesus honoured Old Testament laws and honoured everyone irrespective of class, race, gender and caste. All hostility to another human being and the sense of superiority and inferiority are destroyed before God. Even in the case of the woman caught in the adultery, Jesus pointed out the responsibility of the men involved in the adultery. He was impartial and recognized the dignity in women and respected them. He had women followers and the Bible refers to women caring for His needs (Matt.27:55). It is to be noted, that women were the first witnesses of the Resurrection, in spite of the Jewish mindset that women were a less reliable witness (Matt.28: 8 – 10).
The Apostles likewise, following the footsteps of Jesus honoured the OT laws and taught human worth and equality of all based on the New Life that is secured in Christ. Paul’s declaration in his letter to the Galatian churches (Gal. 3: 28) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, is the key text for human dignity and equality of all. As the epitome of Apostolic teaching on this concern, Paul suggests that Christians take off inequality differences, dishonour to women etc, because they are now clothed in Christ.
People of God must follow the example of Jesus who respected women, spoke to them and heard their problems. We Christians must first shun these practices that discriminate girl children. Girls are gifts to be cherished and not a burden. God made them special and they have special qualities to build up the home they belong to. Let us strive to protect the children, especially girl children from harm.
If we fail to protect the girl children as God has commanded, we fail to keep His laws.
Jeslyne Isaac lives in Chennai and is a member of Healthcare Christian Fellowship India.
(Ref: Biblical perspectives on Children and their protection by Rev Dr Jesudason Baskar Jeyaraj)