The More Sex-Selective Abortions In India, The More Husbands A Lady Gets?

Illustration for article titled The More Sex-Selective Abortions In India, The More Husbands A Lady Gets?

According to the latest census figures, for every 1,000 boys under the age of 6 in India, there are only 941 girls. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon from Einstein Oppenheimer University to figure out that when these children are adults, there's about to be a pretty dramatic wife shortage. So what's going to happen to India's extra men?


Al Jazeera reports that traditional patriarchal values in Indian society have teamed up with modern technology to create the perfect conditions for parents to selectively abort female fetuses or murder baby girls after they've been born. For many families, having a son is vastly preferred to having a daughter; inheritance laws dictate that property be passed to male heirs and families of girls are expected to pay a dowry when she marries. Sometimes the dowry amounts to several years' income for a family, and families with large fortunes at stake stand to lose much of it if they're cursed with a daughter.

Some sociologists speculate that as this generation comes of age, there will be far too many men than women. Imagine a Fantasy Football draft or the audience at a Henry Rollins audience, multiply that ratio by about a thousand, and then try to marry everyone off in a culture that enforces heterosexuality. There are going to be some lonely men, and some see wife-sharing as the only possible solution to this deficit.

The problem of a shortage of women isn't specific to India, either; according to the folks at Freakonomics, the introduction of ultrasound technology in the late 1980's combined with China's One Child Policy combined with social norms that turn female children into a liability has led to the disappearance (or nonappearance) of 160 million girls who statistically should have been born, but weren't.

Says Mara Hvistendahl, author of "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,"

In some countries, where sex selection has taken off, people see this machine as really a way to ensure them a boy.

Officials in China and India are alarmed by these developments; sex selective abortions are officially banned in both places (in China, they've been banned since 2004; in India, 1994), but enterprising and boy baby hungry families have found ways to get around these restrictions. One Chinese clinic's ultrasound equipment is behind a door secured by two locks, and no single employee is ever given the keys to both. But banning sex selective abortion, in some cases, has led to desperate families resorting to infanticide.

There are more dire consequences to a lady shortage than an excess of romantic possibilities for women and a dearth of them for men. Groups of alienated men with no access to resources and no wives are prone to violence. North Korea is already exporting women (ugh) to China in order to address the country's growing bachelor population. Some speculate that governments will funnel single men into military service if they can't marry them off.


The law has failed to put a stop to sex-selective abortion; in fact, the ratio of boys to girls born in Asia since 1990 has increased dramatically. The only way to put a stop to the practice of sex-selective abortion and female infanticide is time. But until underlying social attitudes change, dating and marriage in the age of a dramatically lopsided sex ratio will be a strange animal indeed.

Millions of aborted girls imbalance in India [Al Jazeera]
Misadventures in Baby-Making [Freakonomics Radio]



I worked on some legal issues in India having to do with women's rights. I met a woman who made a strong case for letting women choose female feticide. If women are allowed to decide whether or not to get an abortion, the reasoning shouldn't matter. Besides the fact that it's impossible to prove intent (just lie about why you're getting the abortion which is why the law isn't that effective), sex selection could be a valid reason for aborting a girl to some families. If you allow women to make decisions about drinking or smoking during pregnancy or getting an abortion, you can't step in and decide there is a caveat. Of course, whether the women want to abort the daughter or they're capitulating to outside pressure is another thing, and whether society should value men over women is an additional issue. I have to say her argument has stuck with me and I've found it hard to ignore. The society may have to experience the drawbacks of so many less females and ultimately decide to change (or not) on their own.