Sex-selective abortion is barbaric and socially destructive. But the only effective way to stamp it out is education

That means tackling the assumption that male children are more desirable

Share

The abortion of healthy female foetuses on the grounds of their sex alone is one of the uglier features of the modern world. Not only is the practice emblematic of deep-rooted social and economic prejudices against women. The results are also expected to be grim. With crowds of young men reaching adulthood with little hope of a family life, sociologists warn of everything from a spike in crime to social instability to political extremism.

It is concerning enough, then, that there are areas of India and China where one-and-a-half times as many males are born as females. But it is more alarming still to discover that the phenomenon is now also discernible in Britain. According to statistical analysis carried out by this newspaper, between 1,400 and 4,700 baby girls have “disappeared” in recent years, leaving the gender balance of some ethnic communities notably skewed towards boys.

On this, British law is perhaps not as clear as might be hoped. Although sex-selective abortion is technically illegal, two doctors can agree that it is in the best interests of the mother and proceed. Hence last year’s decision from Keir Starmer, who was Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, not to prosecute doctors appearing to offer sex-selective abortions in a newspaper “sting”. Meanwhile, the authorities appear loath to acknowledge that there is a problem here; a recent Department of Health investigation concluded that there is no evidence of widespread illegality.

Now, though, with indisputable evidence of so many “missing” girls, the issue cannot continue to be brushed under the carpet. The question, of course, is what can be done about it. All possible efforts must be made to limit access to, and regulate the use of, the technology that allows for sex-selective terminations. But we cannot hope to solve the problem by prohibition alone. The suggestion that mothers-to-be might be kept in the dark about their babies’ sex until it’s too late for an abortion is not only impractical but comes with an uncomfortably illiberal tinge. Equally, the call for the sex of all aborted foetuses to be recorded – so as to establish, at least, whether selective terminations are taking place – is of little value, given that the majority of abortions are performed in such a way that the sex cannot be established.

The only effective solution is to focus on education. That means tackling the assumption that male children are more desirable (and, crucially, economically valuable). Even more importantly, it also means offering easy-to-access support to pregnant women who are either themselves considering aborting a female foetus, or are under pressure from family members to do so.

This issue is one that is fraught with sensitivities. Some may try to exploit The Independent’s revelations to exacerbate social divisions; some may hope to marshal them to the anti-abortion cause. This newspaper unequivocally rejects both positions. But the risk that the facts may be misused by an axe-grinding minority cannot trump the value of bringing them to light. Sex-selective abortion is barbaric and socially destructive. The only way to root the practice out is through education. And that starts with the recognition that the problem exists.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine