India Prime Minister Calls Sex-Selection Abortion Problem a "National Shame"

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 28, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

India Prime Minister Calls Sex-Selection Abortion Problem a "National Shame"

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 28
, 2008

New Delhi, India ( — The Prime Minister of India said on Monday that the growing problem of sex-selection abortions is caused "national shame" to the Asian country. Just one week after the nation announced stricter penalties for the practice, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the laws need better enforcement.

His comments on Monday came in Singh’s first speech ever on the subject.

Singh noted that the sex-selection abortion problem is causing an "alarming" change in the nation’s male-female ratio, with 927 girls born in 2001 for every 1,000 boys. That’s down from a 962-1,000 split in 1981.

"This indicates that growing economic prosperity and education levels have not led to a corresponding mitigation in this acute problem," Singh said, according to an International Herald Tribune report.

"No nation, no society, no community can hold its head high and claim to be part of the civilized world if it condones the practice of discriminating against one half of humanity represented by women," the prime minister said.

He described sex-selection abortions as "inhuman, uncivilized and reprehensible."

Singh’s comments came during the opening ceremonies of a conference bringing doctors, lawmakers and civic groups together to address the problem.

The Indian leader said the government has to do more to crack down on doctors who flout the nation’s laws against using ultrasound solely for the purpose of revealing the sex of the unborn child to the parents. Physicians also use coded messages or give pink or blue candies to parents to denote the sex without specifically saying so.

"The patriarchal mindset and preference for male children is compounded by unethical conduct on the part of some medical practitioners, assisted by unscrupulous parents, who illegally offer sex determination services," the Herald reported Singh saying.

The Asian nation has worked hard to try to end the controversial abortions and infanticides targeting girls but has had only moderate success.

Sabu George, a Delhi-based researcher familiar with the problem in India told the Guardian newspaper last week that the problem is not the amount of fines or length of prison terms but the enforcement of the laws.

"Hundreds of thousands of sex selective abortions happen every year, yet only a few hundred doctors are caught," he said. "Conviction rates are ridiculously low. But the real problem is getting state police to catch these criminal doctors."

Singh appeared to acknowledge those issues in the speech.

However, George told the newspaper that Singh’s government needs action, not talk, and hoped the political leader would follow up the speech with more results.

Reports show at least 10 million girl babies have been killed in the abortions and infanticides in the last 20 years — causing a radical shift in the nation’s gender balance and a host of social problems at a result.

Last month, India officials introduced a program to pay poor women to have girl babies and the government said it hoped as many as 100,000 girls will be saved from the deadly practices in the first year alone in the trial program, which began in seven states.

But the program appears to have flopped and has largely been abandoned in favor of trying to catch offending doctors.

Even in poor communities, some families would rather pay two months’ salary for an illegal ultrasound and abortion than years’ worth of income on expensive dowries.

The skewed male-female ratio in India reflects a trend of having smaller families.

Couples are choosing to have only one child and deciding to only have a boy. India follows the beliefs of other Asian nations in favoring boys to carry on work and family names and because girls must have expensive dowries upon their marriage.

In December 2006, a new report by UNICEF indicated 7,000 fewer female babies are born every day because parents can determine the sex of their unborn baby and kill her before birth. In 80 percent of India’s districts, a higher percentage of boys are born now than a decade ago.

The report cites the increased availability of cheap ultrasound technology as playing a role despite attempts by the India government to crack down on its use.

UNICEF says the resulting gender imbalance from sex selection abortions is particularly prevalent in the wealthier regions of the nation where access to the ultrasound technology is easier.

UNICEF based the findings on Indian census data and they follow a report in early 2006 from the British medical journal Lancet, which estimated that 10 million baby girls have probably been aborted in the last 20 years.