Sex-selective abortion in India

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: sex-selective abortion.

NICK EICHER, HOST: This practice has spread throughout eastern and southern Asia. It’s especially common in China and India. According to a new report, nearly 16 million girls have “gone missing” in India since 1990.

REICHARD: Joining us now to talk about that startling statistic is Jonathan Abbamonte. He’s an analyst with the Population Research Institute.

Good morning, Jonathan!


REICHARD: I think many of us are familiar with the practice of sex-selective abortion in China. But this information out of India might come as a surprise. Tell us about the extent of the practice there.

ABBAMONTE: Since 1990 about 4 percent of all female infants that should have been born, were prevented from being born because of the practices of sex-selective abortion. Approximately 550,000 girls have been lost to sex-selection every year since 2014. Actually, before 2014 that number was even a little bit higher. With nearly half a million girls missing every year, that comes out to about 1,500 girls that are lost in India every day. So, this is really quite astounding.

REICHARD: How are societal changes like a preference for smaller families contributing to this problem?

ABBAMONTE: Well, when you have a smaller window of opportunity to have the number of desired sons that you want, that’s going to increase the probability of practicing sex selection. So as fertility has declined in India and China and places across Asia, that’s reduced the chances that women will have a son, so that just fuels the practice of sex selection even more.

REICHARD: Your report notes that about 111 boys are born for every 100 girls in India. What are some of the consequences of that imbalance?

ABBAMONTE: Well, in the long term, that’s going to contribute to sex imbalances in the population at large and that’s going to contribute to a considerable marriage squeeze. Already we’re seeing that playing out in China today. By 2030 we’re going to have approximately 28 million more men of marrying age than women of marrying age based on UN population data. 

And in India, you’ll see a similar trend in the coming decades as well. Already this has fueled rampant human trafficking of so-called brides from China’s neighbors—including Myanmar, Vietnam, North Korea, Cambodia, Mongolia, Laos. So, it’s a pretty widespread problem and this is the result of the sex imbalances that are the consequence, direct consequence of sex-selective abortion. 

REICHARD: Your report offers several solutions to address this problem. Tell us about a few of them.

ABBAMONTE: Well, there’s no silver bullet that is going to eliminate the practice of sex-selective abortion, so you really have to approach it from a broad based approached. However, the most important factor is to make the practice illegal, to ban the practice of sex-selective abortion. 

It’s even more helpful if you can ban abortion pure and simple. But at the very least, the practice of sex-selective abortion needs to be banned and the offering of prenatal sex determination services have to be tightly regulated and the government has to enforce these laws. Because in China and India, sex-selective abortion is already illegal, but in India we’re not seeing a substantial decline in the imbalance of boys to girls. Largely because on the local level, the government has had considerable trouble in enforcing the law. 

The son preference is still embed into the society at large and many doctors, lawmakers, law enforcement officials are sympathetic to parents’ son preferences. So the laws are not enforced as readily as they should be. 

Other solutions that are necessary for tackling the problem of sex-selective abortion are going to be respecting the equal rights and equal dignity of women. Eliminating population control policies in India. Many Indian states, many people don’t realize this, but in many Indian states, couples are limited to no more than two children if they’re running for elected office. Studies have shown that this results in a significant male bias in the sex ratio as a result of these policies.

You also have to emphasize the right for girls to be born as a fundamental human right. You’re not going to be able to discourage people from practicing this until you can reinforce that the right to life is a fundamental human right. Anytime you approach things from a rights-based perspective, that always gives you the higher ground.

REICHARD: Jonathan Abbamonte is a research analyst with the Population Research Institute. Thanks so much for joining us today!

ABBAMONTE: Thank you, Mary.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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One comment on “Sex-selective abortion in India

  1. Pallab Gupta says:

    A major issue is that girls are liked upon as a financial burden because of dowry. On Aug 1, Breakpoint broadcast an interview about the same topic. Here are the links:

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