Ben Johnson contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 12, 2013 ( – A growing gender imbalance in India caused by sex-selective abortions has its roots in American population control efforts, experts told a Congressional panel Tuesday.

The hearing, called “India’s Missing Girls,” was organized by Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, a pro-life congressman and outspoken opponent of sex-selective abortion.


“Sex-selection abortion is a violent, nefarious and deliberate policy imposed on the world by the pro-abortion population control movement—it's not an accident,” Congressman Smith said. “Sex-selection abortion is cruel and discriminatory. It is violence against women.”

Congressman Smith said he wanted to ensure that U.S.-based development agencies do not currently support coercive population control.

“Lawmakers in India, the United States and worldwide must defend women from this vicious assault,” he said.

Indian culture has historically favored sons due to the massive dowries that parents must pay in order for their daughters to marry. When the U.S. Population Council introduced prenatal sex-identification technology to India in the 1970s and suggested people abort their unwanted daughters, people took them up on it by the millions.

Matthew Connelly, a history professor at Columbia University in New York, told lawmakers that “It was development professionals who first promoted sex-selective abortion as a potential solution to what they saw as the population explosion.”

In fact, it was Steven Polgar, the leader of Planned Parenthood's research in the 1960s, who urged biologists to find a way to determine an unborn child's sex.

“At the height of their power and influence, the American men who provided most of the money for population control programs worldwide – they were all men – considered controlling population growth an overriding priority, and gave no consideration to the consequences of reducing the relative number of women,” Connelly said.

He testified that two leaders of the Population Council – then-president Bernard Bereslon and Sheldon Segal, who led its biomedical division – promoted sex-selective abortion. Berelson said playing on cultural gender prejudice was an “ethical” way to proceed, if the movement deemed it necessary to go “beyond” strictly voluntary means of curtailing the population. Segal taught Indian doctors how to determine a child's sex in utero, initiating an era of sex-selective abortion in the subcontinent. 

But their population control efforts were not restricted to abortion.

“In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, Western donors helped pay people to be sterilized, and Western consultants advised denial of health care and education to those who refused,” Connelly testified. “When, in 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency and used the police and army to march people to sterilization camps, foreign donors actually increased their support.”

Connelly told lawmakers that since the U.S. created India’s sex-selective abortion problem, they must do what they can to fix it.

“It is precisely because the U.S. took a leading role in advocating population control worldwide that we cannot pretend that we have no responsibility for the consequences,” Connelly said.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Smith noted the long-term cultural problems brought about by gendercide. “Sex-selective abortion and female infanticide have led to lopsided sex ratios. In parts of India, for example, 126 boys are born for every 100 girls,” he said. “This in turn leads to a shortage of women, which then leads to trafficking in persons, bride selling and prostitution.”

Researcher Sabu George, a member of India's Campaign Against Sex Selection, told legislators at the hearing that more than 6 million baby girls have been destroyed in utero in just the last 10 years, and that while laws banning sex-selective abortion have been passed, they are rarely enforced. As a result, the ratio of girls to boys has been steadily dropping in the country, from 934 girls per 1,000 boys in 1991, to 927 per 1,000 in 2001, to just 914 per 1,000 in 2011.

As of the 2011 census, India had 37 million more males than females. Many experts say this is the biggest factor in the nation’s rising crime rate, especially violence and/or sex crimes against women.

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“Internal instability is heightened in nations displaying exaggerated gender inequality, leading to an altered security calculus for the state,” wrote Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea den Boer, authors of the study, “A Surplus of Men, a Deficit of Peace.”

“Certainly violent crime against women increases as the deficit of women increases,” Hudson told the New York Times. “This will constrain the life chances of females far into the future.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Smith also noted the long-term cultural problems brought about by gendercide, saying, “Sex-selective abortion and female infanticide have led to lopsided sex ratios. In parts of India, for example, 126 boys are born for every 100 girls. This in turn leads to a shortage of women, which then leads to trafficking in persons, bride selling and prostitution.”

Human rights lawyer Jill McElya told the panel that the best way for Congress to fight human trafficking is to address the root cause. She said that just as the U.S. State Department requires nations receiving financial aid to report on human trafficking, it should require them to report on what steps they are taking to protect girls in the womb.

“Should these countries that are required to ensure that their girls are not being trafficked allow their girls to be systematically murdered without repercussion? No,” McElya said.

“By shining a light on what is happening in India with its missing girls, we hope to move toward a world where every woman is valued and respected because of her intrinsic dignity, and where every child is welcomed regardless of his or her sex,” Congressman Smith said.

The New Jersey Republican has long attempted to alert his fellow legislators to the global concern of gendercide.

In April, Smith hosted a Congressional screening of the documentary It’s a Girl to raise awareness of gendercide, and told his colleagues, “The words ‘it’s a girl’ are the deadliest words on earth.”

“According to one UN estimate, up to 200 million women are missing in the world today due to ‘gendercide,’ sex-selection abortion, abandonment, or deadly neglect of baby girls just because they are female,” he said.


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