x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Woman, 72, gives birth to twins

For Charam Singh, a 75-year-old farmer from Uttar Pradesh, the thought of dying without a male heir was too much.

72-year-old Omkari Panwar's successful fertility treatment saw her give birth to twins.
72-year-old Omkari Panwar's successful fertility treatment saw her give birth to twins.

NEW DELHI // For Charam Singh, a 75-year-old farmer from the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the thought of dying without a male heir was too much. He mortgaged his land, sold his buffalo and spent his life savings so his 72-year-old wife, Omkari Panwar, could undergo fertility treatment. Last week, Ms Panwar gave birth to twins, a girl and a boy, by caesarean section, making her the world's oldest mother.

The birth, however, has once again highlighted the extent to which the preference for a male child still endures in India. "Even though I had property, land and money before this, we are so much richer now we have a son," Mr Singh, who already had two grown daughters and five grandchildren, told The National. "A male child keeps the family name alive. A girl becomes an asset of others; they marry and are no longer a part of your family. Having a boy is essential."

Despite several government schemes to eradicate such attitudes, couples will still regularly abort female foetuses and allow female infants to die, according to a report published by UK Charity ActionAid last month, which says the number of girls surviving has hit an all-time low. Traditionally, a male heir inherits the family property and business, and it is the eldest male child that performs the death rites at a parent's funeral.

And, despite a law banning payment of dowries in 1961, the practice is still widespread, meaning that many families think of their daughters as little more than financial burdens. An international team estimated in 2006 that 10 million girls had been aborted in India over the past 20 years. The Indian Medical Association says that five million are aborted annually. Mr Singh and his wife spent 300,000 rupees (Dh25,400) on IVF treatment at the Baby Shastri Nursing Home in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, last year.

The twins, born one month prematurely and weighing 1.16kg (2.5 pounds) each, are healthy and expected to survive, said Dr Nisha Malik, a gynaecologist who was woken from her sleep to deliver the babies. "I was shocked: I didn't think a woman of that age could become pregnant," said Dr Malik, who is based in the town of Muzaffarnagar, about 100km north of Delhi. There are currently no laws in India to regulate who is eligible for IVF treatment.

Ms Panwar, who has no birth certificate, uses the date of India's independence to gauge her age. Before she gave birth, the world's oldest recorded mother was Adriana Iliescu, a Romanian who was 66 when she gave birth to a daughter in 2005. Dr Malik performed an emergency caesarean after Ms Panwar, then eight months pregnant, arrived at the hospital in the middle of the night bleeding profusely and suffering from anaemia.

"She was exhausted," Dr Malik said. "She thought she was expecting two sons." Initially, the Indian media reported the couple did not want to take the girl home with them. But the parents now say they are keeping both. One Indian media report quoted one of the daughters as saying she was very happy for her parents and that she had offered one of her own sons to them, but her in-laws had been against it.

"Neither of us thought the pregnancy would be so difficult," Mr Singh said. Asked if he was worried that he would not live to see his twins grow up, he said: "God has blessed us with a son. That means he still has some plans for us yet." @Email:hgardner@thenational.ae