NEW DELHI, May 24, 2011 ( – Despite legislation that bans gender determination tests, a study has found that sex-selective abortion of girls in India is steadily increasing.

Researchers studied data on children aged 0-6 years from the 1991, 2001, and 2011 national censuses, and analyzed information on abortions carried out between 1980 and 2010.

According to 1991 census, the age 0-6 sex ratio was 934 girls to 1,000 boys, which declined to 927 in the 2001 census, and to 914 girls aged six and under for every 1,000 boys in 2011.

The researchers also found that the sex ratio for the second child in homes where the first born was a girl fell from 906 girls to every 1,000 boys in 1990, to 836 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2005.

The study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, estimated that up to 12 million selective abortions of girls have occurred in India in the past three decades, and that increasing wealth and improving literacy are fueling a crisis of “missing girls.”

“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,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto’s Center for Global Health Research, and lead author of the study.

Dr. Jha observed that ultrasound scanning equipment, readily available to women from higher-income, better-educated families, has led to expansion of sex-selection abortions throughout the country, especially during a second pregnancy if the firstborn was a girl.

“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,” Dr. Jha explained in a Reuters report.

“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,” Dr. Jha said.

“Sex ratios fell sharply in the 20 per cent of the richest households by contrast with non-significant increases in the 20 per cent of the poorest households,” the researchers reported. They concluded, “As family sizes in India have fallen substantially it appears selective female abortions are increasingly being used for second or higher-order births if the first born was a girl or in order to ensure at least one boy in the household.”

An abstract of the study, titled “Trends in selective abortions of girls in India” is available on the Lancet website here.


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