The full extent of India's 'gendercide'

Its population is expanding at breakneck speed, yet its schools are empty of girls

Some call it India's "gendercide". In the past three decades up to 12 million unborn girls have been deliberately aborted by Indian parents determined to ensure they have a male heir.

Once, parents desperate for a son achieved the same end by infanticide. But modern medical technology, and the complicity of the medical establishment, has sanitised the process and made it more socially acceptable.

The systematic elimination of female foetuses in the world's biggest democracy is widening the gap between girls and boys and storing up social problems for the future. In some towns there is already a shortage of brides and there are fears the growing gender imbalance will worsen attitudes to women.

The 2011 census revealed 7.1 million fewer girls than boys aged under seven, up from 6 million in 2001 and from 4.2 million in 1991. The sex ratio in the age group is now 915 girls to 1,000 boys, the lowest since records began in 1961.

Latest research shows selective abortion is concentrated in families where the first child has been a girl. Parents welcome a first daughter but want their second child to be a son. In these families the gender ratio for second births fell from 906 girls per 1,000 boys in 1990 to 836 in 2005, implying between 3.1 million and 6 million female foetuses have been aborted in the past decade.

Wealthier, better-educated couples are the worst offenders, the findings show, putting paid to hopes that socio-economic progress would lead to a change in attitude. Although all strata of Indian society share a preference for sons, better-off families have access to and can afford the ultrasound tests to reveal the sex of a foetus.

Couples believe their family is unbalanced without a son who will continue the family name, earn money, look after his relatives and take care of his parents in old age in a country which has no social security system. Importantly, a girl will marry out of her family, taking her dowry with her, while a boy will bring a dowry into the family, a significant economic advantage.

Publishing his findings in the journal The Lancet, Professor Prabhat Jha of the Centre for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto, and colleagues from India, said: "The selective abortion of female foetuses, usually after a first-born girl, has increased in India over the past few decades, and has contributed to a widening imbalance in the child sex ratio." They call for closer monitoring to help curb the "remarkable growth of selective abortion of girls".

Termination of pregnancy on the basis of sex was made illegal in India under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1996, but the law is routinely flouted. The Home Secretary, Gopal Pillai, has called for a "complete review" of the current policies designed to deal with the imbalance in the sexes, but few believe there is a genuine willingness among politicians to address the issue.

The market for sex determination is said to be worth at least $100m (£62m) a year, with 40,000 registered ultrasound clinics. Although attempts have been made to increase penalties under the act, out of 800 court cases against doctors in 17 states there have been only 55 convictions.

In a commentary published alongside the paper, Dr S V Subramanian of the Harvard School of Public Health, said: "The demand for sons among wealthy parents is being satisfied by the medical community through the provision of illegal services of sex-selective abortion. The financial incentive for physicians to undertake this activity seems to be far greater than the penalties associated with breaking the law."

Efforts to reduce discrimination against girl babies have been successful in places such as South Korea. But the sex bias found among second-borns recorded in India has also been found among Indians living in the USA, where the same social pressures do not exist.

"This finding raises a difficult and provocative question for public policy: should medical technology be allowed to play a part in letting a family plan their desired composition, especially when there is an active public policy effort to voluntarily limit family size to replacement level?" Dr Subramanian says.

Suggested Topics
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
fashion
News
news
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary Maths Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Year 5 Teacher

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teacher...

** Cover Supervisor Ugently Required In Sefton Area **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunity for Secondary...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments