Sex-selective abortions in India could lead to the abortion of 5 million girls over the next decade

The lives of almost 5 million baby girls in India will be lost over the next decade due to the prevalent use of sex-selective abortions, according to new research.

Academics at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia estimate the average annual number of “missing female births” will be 469,000 from 2017 to 2025 and 519,000 from 2026 to 2030, resulting in around 6.8 million lives lost.

Over the next decade, between 2020 and 2030, this would mean the lives of 4,890,000 baby girls would be lost to abortion – an average of more than 1,338 every day.

Anuradha Saxena, a member of the women’s empowerment division for Sikar district, in Rajasthan, told the Guardian that the figures came as no surprise to her. 

“It will take time to remove deep-rooted custom and belief. Progress is slow and incremental but we are working on making girls valued and cherished instead of being seen as a liability who needs a huge dowry to be married off,” she said.

Fengqing Chao and her team modelled the sex ratio at birth across 98% of India’s population, along with fertility rates and national survey data on people’s preferences to have a son or daughter.

The model predicted that there would be 6.8 million “missing female births” across India between 2017 and 2030. The prediction started with 2017 as this is the year after the most recent birth data was published.

India’s missing female births over the next 10 years could have a significant impact on the global sex ratio, since the UN predicts that India will overtake China to become the world’s most populous country in that time period.

‘No girl born in three months’

Despite outlawing sex-selective abortion and pre-natal sex detection in 1994, sex-selective abortion and infanticide remain common practice due to the cultural preference for male children.

A recent report from India’s Government also found an estimated 63 million women were “missing” from the country’s population.

Census data from 2011 showed there were 919 girls to every 1,000 boys for children up to the age of six. In some northern states that ratio was as low as 830, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The World Health Organization says the natural sex ratio at birth is about 105 boys to every 100 girls.

Last year, it was revealed out of 216 births across dozens of villages in northern India, over a 3 month period, not a single girl was born.

Social worker Kalpana Thakur said at the time that the authorities were not doing enough.

“No girl child was born for three months in these villages. It cannot be just a coincidence. This clearly indicates female foeticide is taking place in the district. The government and the administration are not doing anything.”

Sex-selective abortion: A worldwide problem

Sex-selective abortion is a well-documented problem in countries around the world, resulting in highly skewed sex ratios.

Since amending its abortion law in 1998, sex-selective abortions have become a major issue in Canada.

An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal describes how “easy access to abortion and advances in prenatal sex determination have combined to make Canada a haven for parents who would terminate female fetuses in favour of having sons…”.

Similarly, evidence of sex-selective abortions has been found in the Australian territory of Victoria, which introduced abortion on request in 2008.

Following the law change in Victoria, Dr Mark Hobart was investigated by the Medical Board of Victoria for failing to refer a woman for a sex-selective abortion. Additionally, an investigation by Australian broadcaster SBS found higher numbers of boys than girls being born in some ethnic communities in Australia.

A recent study from La Trobe University, analysing more than a million births in Victoria, suggests some parents could be aborting unborn female babies in order to have a son.

In the UK, shadow Minister Naz Shah has previously called for the Government to stop the misuse of Non-invasive Prenatal Test (NiPT) after evidence emerged they were being used to abort pregnancies based on gender.

The Labour MP said: “The government needs to look into this exploitative practice and enforce appropriate restrictions.”

However, Ms Shah is presumably okay with disability-selective abortions as she also said: “NIPT screenings should be used for their intended purpose, to screen for serious conditions and Down’s syndrome.”

Polling, conducted by Savanta ComRes, showed 89% of the general population and 91% of women agree that gender-selective abortion should be explicitly banned by the law.

New Zealand’s MPs vote against protecting baby girls from sex-selective abortion

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is among 70 MPs in the country who have voted against protecting baby girls from sex-selective abortion.

It comes as the country could introduce the world’s most extreme abortion legislation.

Scientific advances in pre-natal testing means it is now possible to detect a babies sex at just seven weeks’ gestation, meaning sex-selective abortion could become an explicit and viable possibility in New Zealand.

MP Melissa Lee had sought to prevent this from becoming a reality, if the extreme abortion bill is voted into law at its third and final reading, likely tomorrow, by bringing forward an amendment to explicitly prohibit sex-selective abortion.

However, despite commendations from other pro-life MPs, Melissa’s amendment was defeated with 50 votes in favour and 70 against.

Sex-selective abortion is a well-documented problem in countries around the world, resulting in highly skewed sex ratios. A study, published last year, estimates that there are over 23 million “missing” girls were as a result of sex-selective abortion.

Canada amended legislation regarding abortion in 1998, effectively introducing abortion on demand. Since then, sex-selective abortion has been identified as a major issue with an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal outlining that “easy access to abortion and advances in prenatal sex determination have combined to make Canada a haven for parents who would terminate female fetuses in favour of having sons…”.

Victoria, Australia introduced abortion on request in 2008. A recent study, from La Trobe University, analysing more than a million births in Victoria suggests some parents could be aborting unborn female babies in order to have a son. Following the law change in Victoria, Dr Mark Hobart was investigated by the Medical Board of Victoria for failing to refer a woman for a sex-selective abortion. Additionally, an investigation by Australian broadcaster SBS found higher numbers of boys than girls being born in some ethnic communities in Australia.

These concerns were highlighted in a submission to the Abortion Legislation Committee from Stop Gendercide, a campaign group who had urged MPs to support Melissa Lee’s amendment.

Unfortunately, both the Abortion Legislation Committee and a majority of MPs ignored the recommendation and New Zealand’s extreme abortion bill will permit sex-selective abortion, if voted into law at its third reading.

Instead, in what appears to be a politically motivated move to appear to be taking action, without actually making material changes to remove this major flaw in the Bill, the Committee have required that the Government produce a report five years after the Bill has passed reviewing whether abortions are being sought solely because of a preference for the fetus to be a particular sex. This means that for this five-year period, and possibly longer, sex-selective abortion will be free to occur in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s MPs have already voted against an amendment that would require health professionals to give medical help to babies born alive after ‘failed’ abortions.

Other rejected amendments that would have saved lives and protected women including measures to provide the following:

  • Provide pain relief to babies being aborted between 20-weeks and birth. 
    • Agnes Loheni – SOP 461 
    • Ayes 43: Noes 76
  • Provide additional safeguards to help prevent sex-selective abortions.
    • Parmjeet Parmar – SOP 475 
    • Ayes 29: Noes 89
  • Ensure safeguards were in place to protect vulnerable women, including those with an intellectual disability, from being coerced into an unwanted abortion. 
    • Joanne Hayes – SOP 462 
    • Rejected in a verbal vote
  • Restricting abortions between 20-weeks and birth (to when there is risk to the life, or of serious harm to the physical or mental health, of the woman; or the fetus is so medically impaired as to be unlikely to survive beyond birth.)
    • Greg O-Connor
    • Ayes 45: Noes 73
  • Restricting abortions between 20 weeks and birth (to where a woman’s life or health is at risk – and requiring doctors to be involved with later abortions rather than the proposed requirement that any health professional can perform an abortion.)
    • Agnes Loheni – SOP 460 
    • Ayes 43: Noes 74
  • Strengthen conscientious objection protections for health professionals.
    • Chris Penk – SOP 469 
    • Ayes 35: Noes 83
  • Requiring ongoing collection of accurate abortion statistics. Currently, the Bill only requires data collection during the first 18 months of the proposed abortion legislation coming into force.
    • Simeon Brown – SOP 480 
    • Ayes 37: Noes 82