It may be against the law, but wealthier, better-educated families in India are choosing more and more often to abort pregnancies if the child is female, researchers in Canada and India reported on Tuesday.
India's 2011 census data show that the country has 7.1 million more boys age 6 and under than girls – a huge jump since 1991, when there were 4.2 million fewer girls than boys. In a natural population, the ratio is more even.
On the family level, the ratio of girls to boys was most skewed in wealthier households with highly educated mothers where the firstborn child had been a girl, the researchers reported in the medical journal The Lancet. Where a boy was the firstborn, the ratio of girls to boys in the family was more even.
Abortion is the only explanation, Dr. Prabhat Jha, of the University of Toronto, and colleagues said.
“The selective abortion of female fetuses, usually after a firstborn girl, has increased in India over the past few decades, and has contributed to a widening imbalance in the child sex ratio. 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,” they wrote.
Jha's team used national survey data for their study.
"We did not yet see any clear evidence of selective abortion of firstborn female fetuses. This is partly because India does not enforce a one-child policy, which led to the selective abortion of firstborn female fetuses in China," they wrote.
The researchers calculate that as many as 4 million unborn girls were aborted in the 1990s, and between 3 million and 6 million in the 2000s. As many as 12 million unborn girls were aborted from 1980 to 2010, they said.
“The demand for sons among wealthy parents is being satisfied by the medical community through the provision of illegal services of fetal sex-determination and sex-selective abortion," Drs. S. V. Subramanian, of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Daniel Corsi, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, wrote in a commentary. "The financial incentive for physicians to undertake this illegal activity seems to be far greater than the penalties associated with breaking the law."
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