01/09/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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10 million female fetuses aborted in 20 years

by Nirmala Carvalho

This was revealed by a scientific journal, the Lancet: one of the major causes is selective abortion. Catholics in the country have suggested the Church sets up a clinic where women can repair the serious mistake of "playing with human life".

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A sort-of "reversal" clinic where Indian women who had sterilizations and other forms of unnatural family planning methods are given a chance to "turn around" to correct the "mistake of playing with life", has been suggested by John Dayal, secretary of the All India Catholic Council (AICC).  His suggestion that the Indian church sets up such a clinic was made in the wake of today's publication of alarming scientific research revealing the abortion of 10 million female fetuses in India over the past 20 years.

According to research published by the British medical journal, Lancet, selective abortions and a traditional preference for male sons could be among the causes of this serious phenomenon. A team of scientists, who analyzed data on fertility on the basis of a nationwide survey in India with six million respondents, discovered that in 1997, half a million less females were born than expected. Projected over a 20-year period, the figure climbs to 10 million.

Experts said resorting to selective abortions of female fetuses was the mostly likely explanation for the phenomenon. "We conservatively estimate that prenatal sex determination and selective abortion accounts for 0.5 million missing girls yearly," said Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto, who led the research team. "If this practice has been common for most of the past two decades since access to ultrasound became widespread, then a figure of 10 million missing female births would not be unreasonable."

Jha and his team revealed that the sex of the first-born child is a determining factor in the couple's decision whether to abort a female fetus or not.  If the first-born son was a girl, the gender ratio for a second birth was just 759 girls to 1,000 boys. When the first two children were girls, this ratio fell to 719 girls to 1,000 boys. If the first children were males, the gender ratio among successive births was about the same. According to the natural gender ratio in other countries, in India, in 1997, around 13.7 million girls should have been born, while the actual figure was 13.1 million.

In Indian culture, a male child is preferred because he can bear the family name, become a source of income and can take care of his parents when they grow old. Female children, on the other hand, are destined to leave the family, and this is not cheap, because of the dowry which must be paid the groom when she gets married. Dayal warned against the "tragic social ramifications" of the dowry problem, which "is becoming a major problem among Christian communities in southern states like Kerala".

Determining the gender of the fetus has been illegal in India since 1994, together with abortion on the basis of gender. Indian doctors warn, however, that there is evidence of widespread abortion of the female fetus in the country. Dr Shanta Durge, founder of the Save the Girl Child movement, said thousands of selective abortions were carried out in India every day. "Interventions aimed at all levels must be taken to stop the problem," she said yesterday on the margins of a national Obstetrics and Gynaecology conference in Kochi, Kerala.

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