10 million female births aborted in India: study

January 10, 2006 12:00 am | Updated March 26, 2012 04:49 pm IST

Hasan Suroor

Nearly 500,000 female babies lost annually to selective abortion

Study based on survey of 1.1 million Indian households "Girl deficit" more common among educated families Prenatal sex determination and selective abortion result in low birth rate of females

LONDON: Despite a legal ban in India on sex selection of babies, a study indicates that the practice is still widely prevalent and it is estimated that at least 10 million female births may have been aborted in the past 20 years.

The study, based on a national survey of 1.1 million Indian households and published in Lancet journal on Monday, claims that nearly 500,000 female babies are lost in India every year because of selective abortion.

Common practice

"We conservatively estimate that parental sex determination and selective abortion accounts for 500,000 missing girls yearly.

''If this practice has been common for most of the past two decades since access to ultrasound became widespread, then a figure of 10 million missing female births would not be unreasonable," the study said.

The research was done by Prabhat Jha and his colleagues at St. Michael's Hospital at the University of Toronto and Rajesh Kumar of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh.

They discovered that the "girl deficit" was more common among educated families, especially in homes where the first-born was a girl.

The desire to have a male heir was found to drive families to sex-determination tests and termination of pregnancy if the foetus was female.

Highlighting the continuing trend of falling female birth rate in India, the study said: "Prenatal sex determination followed by selective abortion of female foetuses is the most plausible explanation for the low sex ratio at birth in India."


It warned that women "most clearly at risk" of having to abort a female foetus were those who already had one or two female children.

"Based on conservative assumptions, the practice [of aborting a female foetus] accounts for about 0·5 million missing female births yearly, translating over the past 2 decades into the abortion of some 10 million female foetuses," it said.

Refined form

In an article in the same journal, Shirish Sheth of Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai, described the practice as simply a "refined" form of female infanticide.

"Female infanticide of the past is refined and honed to a fine skill in this modern guise," the author wrote, pointing out that it was more widespread in urban areas and among the "more educated."

Dr. Sheth said daughters were regarded as a "liability" in India because of socio-economic reasons such as the practice of dowry.

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