Sex-selective abortion and infanticide

Sex-selective abortion and infanticide

Sex-selective abortion is the targeted abortion of a fetus based upon its sex. This is done after a determination is made (usually by ultrasound but also rarely by amniocentesis or another procedure) that the fetus is of an undesired sex. Sex selective infanticide is the practice of selective infanticide against infants of an undesired sex. One common method is child abandonment.

These practices are especially common in some places where cultural norms value male children over female children.Goodkind, Daniel. (1999). [ Should Prenatal Sex Selection be Restricted?: Ethical Questions and Their Implications for Research and Policy] . "Population Studies, 53 (1)," 49-61. Retrieved March 13, 2007.] Societies that practice sex selection in favor of males (sometimes called son preference or female deselection) are quite common, especially in The People's Republic of China, Korea, Taiwan, India, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, New Guinea, and many other developing countries in East Asia and North AfricaA. Gettis, J. Getis, and J. D. Fellmann (2004). Introduction to Geography, Ninth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 200. ISBN 0-07-252183-X] ; sex selection in favor of females appears to be rare or non-existent, although some legends of Amazons say that they practiced male infanticide. In 2005, 90 million women were estimated to be missing in seven Asian countries alone due, apparently, to prenatal sex selective abortion. [ [ Layout 1 ] ] However, other reasons for the sex ratio imbalance in certain countries have been proposed (see below). The existence of the practice appears to be determined by culture, rather than by economic conditions, because such deviations in sex ratios do not exist in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.Sex-selective abortion was rare before the late 20th century because of the difficulty of determining the sex of the fetus before birth, but ultrasound has made such selection easier. However, prior to this, parents would alter family sex compositions through infanticide. It is believed to be responsible for at least part of the skewed birth statistics in favor of males in mainland China, India, Taiwan, and South Korea.



Sex-selective abortion appears to have been practiced at various times in Chinese history such as the Qing dynasty due to population pressures. [,M1] Sex-selective infanticide appears to occur infrequently in China today. However, there is a strong imbalance in sex ratios in China, as well as South Korea and India, which has commonly been attributed to sex-selective abortion. In addition, there appears to be some sex-selective abandonment of infants to circumvent China's one child policy.

Female deselection is common in China: Chinese tradition says that most parents want their first child to be born a male. Female deselection is also due to deeply rooted Confucian traditions, and Chinese parents desire sons in order to make familial propagation, security for the elderly, labor provision, and performance of ancestral rites. China calls the female deselection situation the "missing girl" problem.Fact|date=March 2007

Parents may wish for a male child because in many cultures only a male will carry on the family name (traditionally when a bride gets married she effectively becomes a member of the groom's family) ["Wild Swans, Jung Chang 1991 ] , because they believe that a male is needed for work, or because they wish a male to earn an income needed to support the parents in their old age. [ [ SpringerLink - Journal Article ] ] In response to sex-selective abortions, Mainland China has made it illegal for a physician to reveal the sex of a fetus.

Research indicates that women infected with the hepatitis B virus are 1.5 times more likely to give birth to a male. The researcher, Emily Oster, says that the higher rates of hepatitis B in China could account for 75% of the "missing girls." [ [ "Hepatitis B Accounts For 40 Percent Of 'Missing' Asian Women"] , Science Daily, December 8, 2005] However, new demographic research casts doubt on the hepatitis B theory. Das Gupta found that data from a huge sample of births in China show that the only women with elevated probabilities of bearing a son are those who have already borne daughters. [ [,,contentMDK:21280987~pagePK:64168182~piPK:64168060~theSitePK:477916,00.html Human Development and Public Services - China’s “Missing Girls”—Son Preference or Hepatitis B Infections? ] ]


The practice of female deselection in India could be attributed to socioeconomic reasons. There is a belief by certain people in India that female children are inherently less worthy because they leave home and family when they marry, a system known to anthropologists as patrilocality.

Studies in India have indicated three factors of female deselection in India, which are economic utility, sociocultural utility, and religious functions. The factor as to economic utility is that studies indicate that sons are more likely than daughters to provide family farm labor or provide in or for a family business, earn wages, and give old-age support for parents. Upon marriage, a son makes a daughter-in-law an addition and asset to the family providing additional assistance in household work and brings an economic reward through dowry payments, while daughters get married off and merit an economic penalty through dowry charges. The sociocultural utility factor of female deselection is that, as in China, in India's patrilineal and patriarchal system of families is that having at least one son is mandatory in order to continue the familial line, and many sons constitute additional status to families. The final factor of female deselection is the religious functions that only sons are allowed to provide, based on Hindu tradition, which mandate that sons are mandatory in order to kindle the funeral pyre of their late parents and to assist in the soul salvation. []

In some countries, including India, it is currently illegal to determine the sex of a child during pregnancy using ultra-sound scans. Laboratories are prohibited to reveal the fetus's sex during such scans. While most established labs comply with the law, determined persons can find a cheaper lab that would tell them. Like the Chinese, the Indians also use the postnatal alternative, which is sex-selective infanticide. [,+which+is+sex-selective+infanticide&ots=qZAaHICd_x&sig=bCZFmom8oUeY4tdldM4gN84u6lI] Some turn to people called "dais", traditional midwives, historically female, who offer female deselection, letting the baby boys live but killing the newborn girls by giving them a sharp jerk, that is, turning them upside-down and snapping their spinal cords, and then declaring them stillborn. [ [ So You Kill Your Girls? by Deepika Singh ] ]

The British medical journal "The Lancet" reported in early 2006 that there may have been close to 10 million female fetuses aborted in India over the past 20 years. This is extrapolated partly on the basis of reduction of female-to-male sex ratio from 945 per 1000 in 1991 to 927 per 1000 in 2001. The female-to-male sex ratio is even lower in cases where a couple has had a previous daughter, but no sons, dropping to 759 to 1000 for the second child if the first was a daughter, and 719 to 1000 for a third child if the first two were both daughters. However, the Indian Medical Association disputed the findings, saying gender selection had dropped since a court ruling outlawed the practice in 2001. [] However, someWho|date=October 2007 say that the laws have not been effectively upheld, and successful prosecutions remain non-existent. [Srinivasan, Sandhya. " [ Laws Fail to Remedy Skewed Sex Ratio] ." "Health India." Retrieved March 13, 2007.] The study also reported that sex selective abortion is more common among the wealthy and among educated women than among the poor and the uneducated. Part of this may be due to their being able to afford the associated expense.Syn|date=October 2007 In addition, it is what would be expected by evolutionary theory, as a poor male is much less likely to reproduce than a poor female, while the reverse is true for wealthier people, as they have a high probability of attracting multiple females. [Baldauf, Scott. (January 13, 2006). " [ India's 'girl deficit' deepest among educated] ." "Christian Science Monitor." Retrieved March 13, 2007.] This can still pose a problem for those wealthier Indians who insist upon having a mate from within their own caste and must sometimes travel hundreds of miles to find a suitable partner.Fact|date=October 2007


Historical Inuit demographic studies often show a large child sex imbalance, with sometimes nearly two males per female. Most anthropologists attribute this at least in part to widespread female deselection in the form of infanticide. There have been theories that this is to limit population growth, balance adult population ratios (due to the high mortality rates among adult males), a psychological preference for males, or because sons made a greater contribution to their parents' lives by sharing their hunting produce. [Eric Alden Smith; S. Abigail Smith, Inuit Sex-Ratio Variation: Population Control, Ethnographic Error, or Parental Manipulation?, Current Anthropology Vol.35,No.5(Dec.,1994),pp. 595-624] This imbalance may also be related to the Hepatitis B theory, see below, as an immunization campaign in Alaska brought a marked change in the birth ratio.Fact|date=October 2007

Other causes of sex ratio imbalances

Sex-selective abortion, infanticide, and abandonment may not be the only causes of sex ratio imbalances in the countries mentioned above. Work by Emily Oster notes that women infected with hepatitis B virus are more likely to bear males than uninfected women.Fact|date=October 2007 Her 2005 publication in "The Journal of Political Economy" suggests that in the past, the prevalence of hepatitis infection may have accounted for 75% of the sex ratio imbalance in China, 20% to 50% of the imbalance in the Middle East and Egypt, but less than 20% of the imbalance in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.Fact|date=October 2007 This is an active area of research and these findings are controversial.Fact|date=October 2007 Today's concentrations of sex ratios imbalances are regional -in North-West India or East China- and demographic -among women whose first child was a girl and do not correspond at all to known epidemiological features.Fact|date=October 2007

ocietal effects of sex-selective abortion

Sex-selective abortion has had larger societal effects, particularly in relation to demographics. Culture is a strong motivation for sex-selective abortion, as is evident by the practice of sex-selective abortion among cultures where male children are preferred over female children.

It is estimated that by 2020 there could be more than 35 million young "surplus males" in China and 25 million in India. [" [ Surplus Males: The Need for Balance] ." (Fall 2000). "Bridges." Retrieved March 13, 2007.]

Sex-selective abortion has become an issue in Southern and Eastern Asian countries, where sex-selective abortions have caused an increase in the imbalances between sex ratios of various Asian countries. Studies have estimated that sex-selective abortions have increased the ratio of males to females from the natural average of 105-106 males per 100 females to 113 males per 100 females in both South Korea and China, 110 males per 100 females in Taiwan, and 107 males per 100 females among Chinese populations living in Singapore and parts of Malaysia.Goodkind, Daniel. (1995). [ On Substituting Sex Preference Strategies in East Asia: Does Prenatal Sex Selection Reduce Postnatal Discrimination?] . "Population and Development Review, 22 (1)," 111-125. Retrieved March 13, 2007.] However, a similar trend does not exist in North Korea, possibly due to limited access to prenatal sex-testing technologies. [Goodkind, Daniel. (1999). [ Do Parents Prefer Sons in North Korea?] . "Studies in Family Planning, 30 (3)," 212-218. Retrieved March 13, 2007.]

During the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, policy objectives intended to eliminate sex-selective abortion and infanticide, along with discrimination against female children, were stated in Article 4.15 of the [ Programme of Action] : " eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl child and the root causes of son preference, which results in harmful and unethical practices regarding female infanticide and prenatal sex selection".

Sex-selective abortion has been seen as worsening the sex ratio in India, and thus affecting gender issues related to sex compositions of Indian households. [Sabarwal, Shwetlena. [ Son Preference in India: Prevelance, Trends and Agents of Change] . Retrieved March 13, 2007.] According to the 2001 census, the sex-ratio in India is 107.8 males per 100 females, up from 105.8 males per 100 females in 1991. The ratio is significantly higher in certain states such as Punjab (126.1) and Haryana (122.0). [Arnold, Fred, Kishor, Sunita, & Roy, T. K. (2002). [ Sex-Selective Abortions in India] . "Population and Development Review, 28 (4)," 759-785. Retrieved March 13, 2007.]

It has been argued that by having a one-child policy, China has increased the rate of abortion of female fetuses, thereby accelerating a demographic decline. [ [ The Effect of China's One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years] , Therese Hesketh and Zhu Wei Xing, "New England Journal of Medicine", 2005-09-15.] As Chinese families are allowed only one child, and would often prefer at least one son, there are fewer daughters, thus preventing the formation of a greater number of families in the next generation. [Das Gupta, Monica, Zhenghua, Jiang, Bobua, Li, Zbenming, Xie, Chung, Woo-in, & Hwa-Ok, Bae. (December 2002). [ Why is Son Preference so Persistent in East and South Asia?: A Cross-Country Study of China, India, and the Republic of Korea] . Retrieved March 13, 2007.]

Since 2005, test kits such as the Baby Gender Mentor have become available over the internet.cite news |title=Test reveals gender early in pregnancy |publisher=The Boston Globe |date=2005-06-27 |author=Goldberg, Carey |accessdate=2007-01-16 |url=] These tests have been criticized for making it easier to perform a sex-selective abortion earlier in a pregnancy. [cite news |url=,22049,21715528-5001021,00.html |title=Pick-your-baby test investigated |publisher=The Daily Telegraph |date=May 12, 2007 |author=Masters, Clare |accessdate=2007-05-18] Concerns have also been raised about their accuracy.cite news|author=Boyce, Nell |date=2005-09-29 |url= |title=Critics Question Accuracy of Fetus Sex Test |publisher=National Public Radio |accessdate=2007-01-16] cite news|author=Boyce, Nell |date=2005-10-10 |url= |title=Questions Raised Over Accuracy of Gender Test |publisher=National Public Radio|accessdate=2007-01-23]

ee also


External links

* [ "A conference held in Singapore in December 2005 on female deficit in Asia"]
* [ Sex Selection at Birth; "Statistics Singapore Newsletter, Vol 17 No.3 January 1995"]
* [ The Invisible Girl]
* [ MSNBC - No Girls Please - In parts of Asia, sexism is ingrained and gender selection often means murder]
* [ Akhilesh Mithal - Itihaas - Is Female Feticide Civilized?]
* [ It's a Girl! - Waiting to Die: The Babies Sacrificed for China's One Child Policy]
* [ Surplus Males and US/China Relations]
* [ "A Dangerous Surplus of Sons?"] - An analysis of various studies of the lopsided sex ratios in Asian countries
* [ Case study: Female Infanticide] in India and China
* [ Working paper by Emily Oster linking sex ratio imbalances to hepatitis B infection]
* [ S2 China Report - China: The Effects of the One Child Policy]
* [ Notification on Addressing in a Comprehensive Way the Issue of Rising Sex Ratio at Birth] a UNESCAP document
* [ A collection of essays on sex selection in various Asian countries by Attané and Guilmoto]
* [ Five case studies and a video on sex selection in Asia by UNFPA]

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