In India, the practice of aborting female fetuses increases as women become better educated and wealthier, defying the predicted decline of a widespread cultural preference for sons. And as many as 12 million girls have gone “missing” from the population since 1985 because of the practice, according to new research released Tuesday by the leading medical journal The Lancet.
“There is really no change in stated son preference over the last 10 to 15 years,” said Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto who led the study. “Fertility has dropped substantially due to economic growth and increases in literacy, which are all very good things, but that has also meant that ultrasound use and access is increasing. Families appear to be saying, ‘If nature – or God, if they’re religious – gives us a first boy, then we will have one more child and that’s it, but if we have a first girl we will use ultrasound [and abortion] to ensure our second and last child is a boy.’” Recently released data mean he and colleagues are able to study the trends since 1985, when ultrasound gender testing was introduced here. “And it isn’t slowing down.”
The researchers used census data, and 265,000 birth histories collected in India’s National Family Health Survey, to estimate differences in the girl-boy ratio for second births in families in which the first-born child had been a girl. They found that the girl-boy ratio fell from 906 girls per 1,000 boys in 1990 to 836 in 2005. But in cases where the first child born was a boy, there was no drop in the girl-boy ratio for the second child: evidence that parents are selectively aborting girls if their first-born child is a girl, Dr. Jha said.