Study: Sex-Selection Abortions Kill 12 Million Girls in India

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 24, 2011   |   1:12PM   |   New Delhi, India

A new study analyzing the prevalence of sex-selection abortions in India finds as many as 12 million girls have been killed specifically because of their gender in a society that values boys over girls.

Professor Prabhat Jha at the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, Canada conducted the research and says the 12 million figure covers abortions on girls over the course of the last 30 years and he says parents who tend to be more wealthy were more likely to have abortions when an ultrasound indicated a woman was pregnant with a girl.

“The number of girls being aborted is increasing and may have reached 12 million with the lower estimate of 4 million over the last three decades,” he told Reuters. “The logic is families are saying if Nature gives us a first boy, then we don’t do anything. But if Nature gives a first girl then perhaps we would consider ultrasound testing and selective abortion for the subsequent children.”

“The preference for boys doesn’t differ between rich and poor, it is similar. But the means to ensure a boy is greater among the educated and the rich,” Jha said.

Jha told Reuters that he’s concerned the figure will rise as the fertility rate declines in the nation, as couples compete further to have boys.

Publishing their new study in the British medical journal The Lancet, Jha said the sex-selection abortions that take place in India are different from those taking place in China, where there is a similar cultural preference for boys over girls.

“In India, we don’t see that yet and there is no required one-child policy. But the concern is that if urban women decide they only want one child, then this practice may spread from second or third child to the first, so this is a future risk that we have identified,” Jha said.

The information for the analysis, according to Reuters, comes from three national health surveys the India health department conducted with more than 300,000 mothers from 1996-2006 about their birth history.

“There were 4 million to 12 million selective abortions from 1980 to 2010 and just in the last decade, about 3 to 6 million, so the problem is increasing,” Jha said. “Until the government brings health reforms in place and brings doctors into a publicly financed accountable system, it’s difficult to go that route.”

“Reliable monitoring and reporting of sex ratios by birth order in each of India’s districts could be a reasonable part of any efforts to curb the remarkable growth of selective abortions of girls,” he said. “Most of India’s population now live in states where selective abortion is common.”

Jah reportedly found that the gender imbalance decreases when a couple has a first child who is a boy, as the desire for a boy has declined and couples are happy with a female second child.

“Declines were much greater in mothers with 10 or more years of education than those with no education and in richer households. But if the first child had been a boy, there was no fall in the girl-boy ratio for second child,” Jha said.