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Rough Cut: India: The Missing Girls
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Many families continue to voluntarily abort female fetuses at alarmingly high rates.


Though the practice of female feticide is against the law in India, many families, including those in the middle-class, continue to voluntarily abort female fetuses at alarmingly high rates.

Prior to the development of ultrasound technology, female infanticide took place in India and China. In China, the One Child Policy created heavy financial penalties for couples who had more than one child and led to the murder of female infants.

Female feticide has become a common occurrence since the development of sex-determination tests, and economic reasons primarily drive the preference for male babies. Men are typically viewed as income-earners who can financially support their families and elderly parents.

Street Sign in India

The long-held tradition of dowry makes women, on the other hand, an economic burden for families in India. Although this practice has also been formally outlawed, it is still very common for a woman's family to pay a large sum of money, called a dowry, to the family of her husband-to-be. Dowry deaths - the murder of women who cannot pay enough money after a wedding - continues in India even today.

While abortion is legal in India, sex-selective abortion is not. According to The Washington Times, there are about 6.7 million abortions in India annually. Earlier this year, the U.K.-based medical journal, The Lancet, reported that about 500,000 female fetuses, or one in twenty five, are selectively aborted each year across India.

Although the natural birthrate worldwide amounted to 952 girls for every 1000 boys in 2000, just five years later the ratio reached a low of 814 girls for every 1000 boys in New Delhi. Although female feticide is more common in northern India, the ratio gap overall is typically much greater than worldwide norms.

Street Sign in India

The Christian Science Monitor reports the numbers gap is most drastic in wealthier areas where people can afford to have sonograms, or sex-determination tests. "In the prosperous farming district of Kurukshetra, for instance, there are only 770 girl babies for every 1,000 boys." Ultrasound machines have been big business in India, bringing in about $77 million in 2006, a 10% rise from the previous year. In 2004, there was a slight dip in sales when the leading manufacturer General Electric took steps to regulate its machines. Indian laws mandate the registration of ultrasound machines, but it is difficult to track because corporate sales data are often kept under wraps and inspection is costly and time-consuming.

This year, UNICEF reported that 43 million of the estimated 100 million women worldwide who would have been born if not for extraneous circumstances, including gender-specific abortion, would have been Indian.

Sources: BBC, Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Gendercide Watch, The Lancet, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, UNICEF

Related Links

The Wall Street Journal: "India's Skewed Sex Ratio Puts GE Sales in Spotlight"
This front page article in the Wall Street Journal by Peter Wonacott highlights how a handful of multinational companies that produce ultrasound machines, are inadvertently playing a role in India's feticide problem.

Christian Science Monitor: "India's 'girl deficit' deepest among educated"
Scott Balfauf writes from New Delhi about the rise of selective abortion in India in the past thirty years. Balfauf focuses on a study released recently by the U.K. based journal, The Lancet,, noting that India's boy to girl population ratio is most imbalanced among the wealthy.

The Washington Times: "Killing Eve - India's Abortion Crisis"
(Online four-part article series February 26, 2007 - March 11, 2007)
Part One of this series, "India's imbalance of sexes", by Julia Duin, looks at the legalization of abortion in India in 1971, and tracks its role in the quickly widening gender-gap between boys and girls. Duin also examines India's government's decision not to acknowledge the feticide problem until just recently.

Soap Opera Fighting to Save Baby Girls
A Bollywood-style soap opera, called "Atmajaa," or "Born from the Soul," in India has joined the battle against female feticide. The series highlighted the problems of sex-selection tests and tried and change opinions on the aborting of female fetuses.

Hyderabad News on Female Infanticide
Female Infanticide refers to the killing of female infants after birth, carried out for centuries in many countries, from India to ancient Greece. This article examines the practice, and includes data on the causes of gender discrimination in India.

Loss of 10 million girls
This article discusses the loss of 10 million female births over the past 20 years, data collected by researchers from medical journal The Lancet.

Female Infanticide in Villages
This article, published in India's site, discusses female infanticide in Indian villages. The Indian Council for Child Welfare has tried to prevent infanticide by convincing expectant mothers to deliver their children in hospitals and setting up an orphanage for unwanted girls.

Gendercide Watch
Funded by the Edmonton, Alberta-based Gender Issues Education Foundation in Edmonton, this site includes case studies on female feticide in China and India. The organization fights gender-based mass killing.

Compiled by Sonia Narang and Rob Krieger