Nature India | Indigenus

Indian girl, interrupted

Here’s a scientific confirmation of what we knew all along, forming the basis of India’s skewed sex ratio.

New research published this week in The Lancet says more and more Indian families with a girl as their first child abort their second if it turns out to be a girl in prenatal testing. The ghastly act presumably aims at ensuring at least one boy child in the family.

Surprisingly, the decline in girl to boy ratio is more in better-educated and richer households than in illiterate and poorer households.

The authors have analysed census data to determine absolute numbers of selective abortions and examined over 250,000 births from national surveys to estimate differences in the girl-boy ratio for second births in families in which the first-born child had been a girl.

Researchers from Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada and colleagues from India – Post Graduate Institute of Medical Research and Education, Chandigarh; International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai; National Population Stabilisation Fund, New Delhi and the government of Maharastra – have come to the conclusion that the selective abortion of female fetuses, usually after a firstborn girl, has increased in India over the past few decades. Reliable monitoring and reporting of sex ratios by birth order in each of India’s districts could be a reasonable part of any effort to curb the remarkable growth of selective abortions of girls, they feel.

The 2011 Indian census showed about 7.1 million fewer girls than boys aged 0–6 years. This gap was 6.0 million in the 2001 census and 4.2 million in the 1991 census.


Poster of a Hindi movie condemning female foeticide

The Indian Government implemented a Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1996 to prevent the misuse of techniques for the purpose of prenatal sex determination leading to selective abortion of girls. Obviously, the act has seen some shoddy implementation. Civil society agitation, popular media interventions including cinema; and aggressive public health programmes — nothing seems to be making a dent.

What will?

What do we, as a nation, have against the girl child?


  1. Report this comment

    V R Suresh said:

    Indian society is a kaleidoscope of contradictions. It does not matter what the income level or religion of a family is, one thing that could potentially unite India is its distrust of the female gender and its viewing the female child as a drain on the father’s finances. All this business of women reaching top positions in India and becoming more visible is rubbish. Take a look at the female children who beg, do menial work, sell things on the roads and work in your homes and ask yourself whether this country has really changed in its attitude. I predict that the male to female sex ratio in India will increase even further in the decades to come.

    Since it takes so long for Indian society to do anything about anything (and most times not at all) and the Indian judiciary never takes decisions on time, may be people can start deliberating on this now.