Selective abortion of girls in India prevented about 4.2 million to 12.1 million girls from being born between 1980 and 2010, with the largest number of girls being aborted in the 1990s, a latest survey has shown.

Selective abortion of girls, especially for pregnancies after a firstborn girl, has increased substantially in India. Most of India's population now lives in States where selective abortion is common, says the study “Trends in selective abortions of girls in India: analysis of nationally representative birth histories from 1990 to 2005 and Census data from 1991 to 2011,” published in the latest edition of The Lancet.

7.1 million less girls

The 2011 Census has revealed there were about 7.1 million fewer girls than boys aged 0-6 years, a substantial increase over 6 million fewer girls recorded in the 2001 Census and 4.2 million fewer girls recorded in the 1991 Census. The decline in girl-boy ratios are larger in better-educated and richer households than in illiterate and poorer households. It implies that 90 per cent people in India live in States where selective abortion of girls is common.

Census data analyses

In the study, the authors analysed Census data to determine absolute numbers of selective abortions and examined over 250,000 births from national surveys to estimate differences in the girl-boy ratio for second births in families in which the first born child had been a girl. The Lancet article is written by Prabhat Jha, Centre for Global Health Research, Dalla Lala School of Public Health, University of Toronto, and colleagues from India, including the former Registrar-General of India, D. Jayant K. Banthia.

The study has found that the girl-boy ratio fell from 906 girls per 1,000 boys in 1990 to 836 in 2005: an annual decline of 0.52 per cent. The decline was much greater in families where mothers had 10 or more years of education than in those where mothers had no education. It was pronounced in wealthier households than poorer households.

But, if the first child had been a boy, there was no fall in the girl-boy ratio for the second child over the study period, strongly suggesting that families particularly those that are wealthier and educated, are selectively aborting girls if their firstborn child is also a girl.

After adjusting for excess mortality rates in girls, the authors have estimated that the number of selective abortion of girls rose from 0 -2 million in the 1980s to 1.2 million - 4.1 million in the 1990s, and to 3.1million - 6 million in the 2000s. Each one per cent decline in child sex ratio at 0-6 year age implied between 1.2 million and 3.6 million more selective abortion of girls.

District-wise

The authors point out that between 2001 and 2011 Censuses, more than twice the number of Indian districts showed decline in the child sex ratio compared to districts with no change or increases. They also point out that a Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1996 to prevent the misuse of techniques for the purpose of prenatal sex determination has been effective nationally but a reliable monitoring and reporting of sex ratios by birth order in each district could be “a reasonable part of any effort to curb the growth of selective abortions of girls.”