India: Increase in Sex-Selective Abortions Linked to Economic and Educational Status
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 12:40 PM

A recent study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, indicates a connection between the increase in wealth and literacy rates in India and the increase in the practice of sex-selective abortions. Researchers from several different institutions used census data from 1991-2011 and data from India’s National Family Health Survey to examine approximately 250,000 births occurring between 1990 and 2005.

The study illuminates data from the 2011 Indian Census that represents the lowest ratio of girls to boys since 1947. For children under the age of six, the census found about 7.1 million fewer girls than boys. Ten years ago the gap was around 6 million, which indicates a sharp incline in sex-selective abortions. The Lancet study estimates that there have been 4-12 million selective abortions of girls in India during the past thirty years.

There is a cultural preference in many Asian countries for male children because of their religious, civic, and economic roles in society. The practice of sex-selective abortion in India used to be relatively confined to a few conservative northern states, but it has since spread across the country. Dr. Prabhat Jha, director of the Center for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto, attributes the rise in the practice to the increased availability of ultrasound equipment. He also states that wealthier and better-educated women are more likely to get an ultrasound, and the Lancet researchers have found that these women are more likely to abort based on sex.

Legislation currently exists to prevent sex-selective abortion, but, as the census data shows, it is seemingly ineffective. Few medical practitioners have been prosecuted for performing sex-selective abortions and private health care providers are difficult to regulate. Shailaja Chandra, former director of the National Population Stabilization Fund and one of the study’s authors, says, “The scale is very large and requires intervention beyond what has been done so far.” 


Compiled from: As Wealth and Literacy Rise in India, Report Says, So Do Sex-Selective Abortions, The New York TimesWUNRN, (24 May 2011).