India has been growing wealthier and improving literacy rates in recent years, but these factors have also worsened the problem of sex-selective abortions. While it used to be more common for couples living in conservative northern states to abort girls, the practice has now spread across the country.
A new study published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, found that in the last three decades, there have been 4 million to 12 million sex-selective abortions in India. According to the New York Times, the country now has the lowest ratio of girls since 1947. The 2011 census found that among children six and younger, there are 914 girls for every 1,000 boys.
Shailaja Chandra, who co-authored the study, says, "This has deep implications ... the scale is very large and requires intervention beyond what has been done so far." The nation has tried banning the use of ultrasounds to determine whether to abort a girl, but few people have been prosecuted under this law and it seems almost impossible to enforce. Women aren't interrogated about their motivation for obtaining an abortion, nor should they be. Still, the evidence suggests the rise in sex-selective abortions is linked to greater use of ultrasound technology. Just as women from wealthier, well-educated families are more likely to undergo prenatal testing, they're also the group most likely to abort a female if it's the firstborn.
Parents across the world have strong preferences for the sex of their baby, but as for why sex-selective abortions are particularly prevalent in India, the Times says:
In Hindu funeral rituals, only males, preferably a son of the deceased, may perform last rites; sons also usually inherit property (while daughters are married into other families) and carry on the family name. A cultural preference for sons is also common among many Indian Muslims.
Bans on abortions based on sex clearly aren't working. The only way to put an end to the practice may be to increase gender equality in the country, making the idea of having a girl seem like less of a burden.
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