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BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 01 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3334

Selective abortion of girls rises steadily in India

Selective abortion of girls is a growing problem in India. The ratio of girls to boys among second born babies in families where the first born child was a girl has fallen steadily over the past two decades, say researchers. In 2005, there were only 835 second born girls in these families for every 1000 second born boys. Selective abortion is the only reasonable explanation. Sex ratios in children up to 6 years reflect the imbalance in births. Census data show that the ratio of girls to boys is falling in three quarters of Indian districts.

Selective abortion is illegal, so the true extent of the practice cannot be measured. Researchers estimate that between three million and six million female fetuses have been aborted in India since 2000. Falling sex ratios are most marked in rich families with well educated parents, who presumably have access to expensive ultrasound and abortion services. This analysis of three national surveys and two national censuses found no evidence of selective abortion in poor families, families with no children, or families with boys.

India’s preference for boys has endured despite economic development, but the real blame lies with doctors, …

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