NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Sex Selection Abortion in India

October 31, 2003

Despite laws against the use of abortion to select the sex of children born to couples in India, experts say doctors are fully cooperating in the use of ultrasound to determine the sex of fetuses, and participate in abortion of females for couples who want male children.

As a result, in at least four Indian states there are more than 20 percent fewer females born than males. Experts warn this unprecedented phenomenon could have negative social and cultural consequences.

  • The sex ratio, calculated as number of girls per 1000 boys in the 0-6 age group, declined from 945 girls per 1,000 boys in the 1991 census to 927 in the 2001 census.
  • There has been a steady decline in the ratio in recent decades, from 976 in 1961 to 964 in 1971 and to 962 in 1981.
  • In 2001, four states -- Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, and Gujarat -- fell into the category of having fewer than 800 girls per 1,000 boys for the first time.
  • In Fatehgarh, in Punjab, the number of girls declined to 754 per 1,000 boys.

Experts blame the epidemic of killing female fetuses in the womb on the widespread availability and affordability of ultrasound machines. The number of ultrasound machines in India is now estimated to be nearly 100,000.

In India, sons support the parents in old age, whereas females are considered a burden on whom the parents have to spend huge amounts as "dowry" for getting married.

Source: Sanjay Kumar, "Ratio of girls to boys in India continues to decline," November 1, 2003, British Medical Journal; Mira Shiva and Ashish Bose, "Missing...Mapping the Adverse Child Sex Ratio in India," October 2003, United Nations Population Fund.


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