Selective abortion by sex

The sex – selective abortion is the practice of terminating a pregnancy according to the expected baby ‘s sex. The abortion of female fetuses is more common in areas where cultural norms value more sons than daughters, especially in parts of China , India , Pakistan , the Caucasus and southeastern Europe 1 2 3

Selective abortion affects the human-by-sex ratio, ie the ratio of the number of men to women in a given age group. 4 5 Studies and reports on selective abortion are predominantly statistics: assume that the rate of births by sex (general rate of children born in a regional population) is an indicator of this practice. This assumption has been questioned by some experts, 6 while supporters suggest that the sex-to-birth index is 103 girls versus 107 boys. 7 8Countries that are suspected of having selective abortion are those who have sexes at birth of 108 or older (female abortion for girls) or 102 or below (selective abortion for children). 7 See List of countries by comparative index of sex .

The overall impact of ultrasound and selective abortion on the female population is a hot topic of debate. Sex-urethrography technologies became very popular in Asian countries in the 1980s and 1990s, and the estimated reduction in female population varies. 9 10 Ross Douthat claims that “more than 160 million women are” missing “because of ultrasound followed by selective abortions. 11 Guilmoto, 12 for her part, says that there is a shortage of about 40 million women in Asia, the Caucasus and Europe.

Index of sexes at birth

The sex index at birth may vary for natural reasons as well as for selective abortion. In many countries abortion is legal (countries in navy blue on the map), although selective abortion by sex is illegal around the world

Selective abortion by sex affects the sex ratio, that is, the relationship between men and women in a given age group. 4 Studies and reports on selective abortion are based on the assumption that the sex-to-birth ratio (the comparative birth data for boys and girls in a regional population) is an indicator of selective abortion by sex. 6 13

In a 2002 study it was estimated that the sex ratio at birth was about 106 children versus 100 girls. 14 Indices significantly different from 106 are assumed to be related to the prevalence and scale of selective abortion. This assumption is controversial and remains the subject of scientific studies.

High or low sex ratios involve selective abortions

One school of thought suggests that any sex ratio that moves away from the usual range 105-107 necessarily implies selective abortion. These experts 15 claim that the comparative index sex at birth and rate of sexes in society are fairly constant in populations. Significant deviations in these indices can only be explained by manipulation, that is, selective abortion by sex. In a widely quoted article, 16 Amartya Sen compares the sex ratios of Europe (106) and the United States (105) with those of Asia (107 or more) and argues that high East, West and South Asian indices may be due To excessive female mortality. Sen points to certain research showing that if men and women receive similar nutritional and medical care and good health care, women have a higher survival rate, and the male is the one with the greatest genetic fragility. 8 Sen estimated the number of “lost women” from women who had survived in Asia if this continent had the same female / male ratio as Europe and the United States. According to Sen, the high sex ratio at birth over decades implies a 11 percent lack of women in Asia, that is, more than 100 million women are missing in the aggregate population of Southeast Asia, North Africa and China.

The deviations in the index compared by sex can be natural.

Other experts question whether a sex ratio at birth greater or less than 103-107 might be due to natural causes. William James and others 6 17 point out these conventional assumptions:

  • There are the same number of X and Y chromosomes in mammalian sperm
  • The X and Y chromosomes have the same opportunities to achieve conception
  • Thus, the same number of male and female zygotes
  • Therefore, any variation of the relationship between sexes at birth is due to the selection of sex between conception and birth.

James asserts that there is scientific evidence that belies previous assumptions and conclusions. According to their reports, an excess of children are born in practically all human populations, and the natural rate of sex at birth is usually between 102 and 108. However, the relationship may deviate significantly from this range for natural reasons such as early marriages and fertility , Maternal age, maternal age, paternal age, age gap between parents, late births, ethnicity, social and economic tension, wars, environmental and hormonal effects. 6 18 This school of experts supports its alternative hypotheses with historical data when modern sex-selection technologies do not exist, and with sex-to-birth rates in subregions and among different ethnic groups in developed economies. 19 20 They argue that direct abortion data should be collected and studied rather than draw indirect inferences from the sex index at birth.

James’ hypothesis is backed by historical data of the sexes at the birth of earlier epochs that ultrasounds were discovered and marketed in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the abnormal sex-indexes currently observed in Africa. Michel Garenne says that many African countries have decades with birth rates below 100, which means that more girls are born than boys. 21 Angola , Botswana and Namibia report indexes between 94 and 99, far from the 104 to 106 that are presumed to be natural in humans. John Graunt argues that in London, over a period of 35 years in the XVII (1628-1662), 22 the sex index at birth was 1.07, while the historical records of Korea on 5 million births Show an index of 113 in the decade after 1920. 23 Other studies on Asia also support the James hypothesis, for example, Jiang states that the index in China was 116-121 over a century between the eighteenth century and XIX, falling to 112 from 1930. 24 25

Data of the human index of sexes to the birth

Main article: Sex index at birth by country

In the United States, the sex-to-birth ratios over the 1970-2002 period were 105 among the non-Hispanic white population, 104 among Mexican Americans, 103 among African Americans and Amerindians, and 107 in the Chinese and Filipino ethnic groups . 26 Among Western European countries, the indices ranged from 104 to 107. 27 28 29 In the combined results of 56 demographic and health statistics 30 from African countries, the sex-to-birth index turned out to be 103, although there are also considerable variations From one country to another and from one year to the next. 31

In a 2005 study, the US Department of Health and Human Services calculated the sex index at birth in the United States. Over 62 years starting in 1940. 32 This study reaches the following conclusions: Among the primiparous mothers, the general index of sexes at birth was 106, reaching 107 some years, while starting with the second child, this index Decreases with each baby from 106 to 103. The age of the mother affects the index: the general index was 105 among mothers from 25 to 35, while among mothers younger than 15 years or older than 40, the index ranged between 94 and 111, with an average of 104. This US study also showed that mothers of Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese, Cuban or Japanese origin had the highest rate, reaching some 114 years, 107 being the average of the 62 years that Covers the study. Outside the US, European countries with comprehensive birth data, such as Finland, show similar variations in the sex-at-birth index over a 250-year period, from 1751 to 1997. 20

According to CIA estimates, 33 in 2013, the countries with the highest birth sex index were Liechtenstein (126), Curacao (115), Azerbaijan (113), Armenia (112), China (112), India (112), Vietnam (112), Georgia (111), Albania (111), Granada (110), San Marino (109), Taiwan (109), Jersey (108), Kosovo (108), Macedonia (108) And Singapore (108). The lowest child / child ratios were, according to the CIA’s estimate, 33 in Haiti (101), Barbados (101), Bermuda (101), Cayman Islands (102), Qatar (102), Kenya (102) , Malawi (102), Mozambique (102), South Africa (102) and Aruba (102).

Reliability of the data

Estimates of the sex-at-birth index and selective abortion rates are also discussed. For example, the CIA 33 provides an index of gender at birth for Switzerland of 106, while the Federal Statistical Office of Switzerland, which observes the births of children each year, has calculated that the last index sex at birth is 107. 34 Other variations are more significant; For example, according to CIA forecasts Pakistan’s index will be 105, but the United Nations Population Fund says 35 will be 110, and the Pakistani government calculates its average sex index at birth at 111. 36 37

The two most-studied countries with high sex-to-birth rates and sex-selective abortions are China and India. The CIA estimates 33 a sex index at birth of 112 for both countries in recent years. However, the World Bank states that in 2009 this rate was 120 children per 100 girls in China, 38 while the UNFPA estimates that the Chinese index in 2011 was 118. 39 In the case of India, the UNFPA estimates An index of 111 in the period 2008 to 2010, while the World Bank and the official government census yield an index of 108. 40 41 These variations and the reliability of the data is important, since an increase from 108 to 109 In India and from 117 to 118 in China, large population countries, would represent the possible sex-selective abortion of about 100,000 girls.

Prenatal sex differentiation

Ultrasound showing that the fetus is a child

The most modern test that is practiced, fetal DNA in free cells , is to take a sample of blood from the mother and isolate the small amount of DNA that is in it. When performed from the seventh week of pregnancy, this method has a reliability of 98%. 42 43

The ultrasound or sonogram, either vaginal or abdominal, check several markers of fetal sex. From the 12th week of pregnancy can correctly determine sex in 3 / 4 of fetuses, according to a 2001 study 44 Reliability in male fetuses is 50% and almost 100% in female fetuses. From the 13th week of pregnancy, ultrasound gives a reliable result in practically 100% of the cases. 44

The most invasive tests are chorionic biopsy and amniocentesis , which examine chorionic villi and amniotic fluid respectively. Both techniques are usually performed to analyze chromosomal mutations but may also reveal the sex of the baby, and are performed at an early stage of pregnancy. However, they are often more expensive and more dangerous than a blood test or an ultrasound, so they are used less frequently than other sex-determination techniques. Four. Five


China launched its first ultrasound scan in 1979. 13 In 1982, Chinese clinics began introducing ultrasound techniques that can be used to determine the sex of the fetus. In 1991, Chinese companies produced 5000 echographers a year. In 2001, virtually all urban and rural hospitals and all Chinese family planning clinics had good fetal sex determination kits. 46

The use of ultrasound scans in India also began in 1979, but its expansion has been slower than in China. Fetal sex-determination technologies first appeared in major Indian cities in the 1980s and expanded to rural areas in the 1990s, becoming generalized in 2000. 9

Practice of selective abortion by sex


Before the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the sex ratio at birth in Caucasian countries such as Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia was between 105 and 108. After the collapse of the USSR, these rates rose and Have remained high for the past 20 years. 47 In Armenia, a Christian country, and Azerbaijan with a Muslim majority, more than 115 children are now born for every 100 girls, while in Georgia, the Christian majority, the sex ratio at birth is about 120, a trend that according to The Economist suggests that the practice of sex-selective abortions in the Caucasus has been similar to that of Southeast Asia in the last decades 40

According to data from 2005-2010, the sex-to-birth index in Armenia is considered a function of the birth rate. In the case of the first children, the annual average is 138 children per 100 girls. If the first child is male, the sex ratio for the second child drops to 85. If the first child is female, the sex ratio in the second child is 156 children per 100 girls. In general, the sex-to-birth rate in Armenia exceeds 115, much higher than India’s 108, according to experts. 40 48 49 Although these high rates may suggest the practice of selective abortion, there is no direct evidence of such large-scale abortions in the Caucasus. 47


A road sign reminds motorists to refuse prenatal sex identification when it is unnecessary and sexually selective abortion. (Daye, Hubei, 2008)

When the sex index in China began to be studied in 1960, it was still within normal limits. However, in 1990 it rose to 111.9 13 and 118 in 2010 according to the official census. 50 51Researchers believe that the causes of this gender imbalance are increased infant mortality among girls, non-enrollment of girls in the census, and selective abortion by sex. According to Zeng (1993), the main cause is probably selective abortion, but it is difficult to prove in a country whose birth data are not very reliable because of the concealment of “illegal” births under the one-child policy . 52 These illegal births have led to the non-registration of girls’ births. Zeng, using an inverse method of survival, estimated that this lack of enrollment affects 2.26% of children and 5.94% of girls. With unregistered illegal births, he concludes that the sex index at the birth of China in 1989 was 111 rather than 115. 52 These national averages mask regional data. For example, in provinces such as Anhui , Jiangxi , Shaanxi , Hunan and Canton , the sex-to-birth index exceeds 130. 53 54

For hundreds of years traditional Chinese techniques have been used to determine the sex of the fetus with varying results. It was not until ultrasound became popular in urban and rural areas that sex could be determined scientifically. In 1986, the Ministry of Health published the Prohibition of Prenatal Determination of Sex, which was not strictly enforced. 55 Three years later, the Ministry of Health outlawed the use of sex-determination techniques except to diagnose hereditary diseases. 56 However, many people have personal connections with toilets and the preference of the male continues to dominate the cultural, which leads to a widespread use of these techniques. 13 According to Hardy, Gu and Xie (2000), ultrasound has become routine in China, as evidenced by the high sex ratio at birth throughout the country. 57

Hardy, Gu, and Xie suggest that sex-selective abortion is more prevalent in rural China because the preference for males is much higher. 57 China’s urban areas, in general, are shifting to greater equality between the sexes, while rural China tends to retain a more traditional view. In part, this is due to the belief that boys will always be part of the family, while daughters are only temporary, and go to a new family when they get married. In addition, a first male child improves the position of the mother in the society, which does not happen in the case of a first-born 13

In the past, the desire of male children was manifested in high birth rates, since many couples continued to have children until they had a child. 13 However, the combination of financial problems and, above all, the one -child policy (discussed later) has led to increased planning and selection of the sexes. Even in rural areas, most women know that ultrasound can be used for sex determination. Junhong found that in each pregnancy, the chances of women turning to ultrasound increased by about 10% (39% for the firstborn, 55% for the second child, 67% for the third). He also observed that the sex of the first-born influences the probability that the woman will have an ultrasound in the following pregnancies: 40% in women who have had a male versus 70% of women who have a daughter. This points to a strong desire to select a male if they have not yet had one. 13

Due to the lack of data on births, many researchers have studied abortion statistics in China. One of the earliest studies by Qui (1987) found that according to the general belief, fetuses are not considered human beings until they are born, which leads to a cultural preference for abortion in the face of infanticide. 58 In fact, infanticide and child neglect are now quite rare in China. 13 Instead, Junhong found that about 27% of women undergo abortion, and that if the first-born of a family is a girl, 92% of female fetuses are aborted in the second pregnancy. 59

In a 2005 study, Zhu, Lu, and Hesketh found that the highest sex ratio occurred between the ages of 1 and 4 years, and that two provinces, Tibet and Sinkiang, were within normal limits. Two other provinces had an index above 140, four had indexes between 130 and 139 and seven had indices between 120 and 129, all of them considerably higher than the natural index. 54

According to the variations in the single-child policy there are three types of provinces: According to Zhu and others, type 1, the most restrictive, allows only 40% of couples to have a second child, generally only if the first is a girl. In type 2 provinces, any couple is allowed to have a second child if the first is a child or if the parents claim “difficulties” and local officials accept the request. Type 3 provinces, generally sparsely populated, allow couples to have a second child, and sometimes a third regardless of sex. Zhu and others found that type 2 provinces have the highest birth rates, as can be seen in Henan , Anhui , Jiangxi , Hunan , Canton, and Hainan . 54 60

If the trend of the sex ratio in China is projected to 2020, it is noted that young men will exceed women by 55 million. 61 According to Junhong, many men between the ages of 28 and 49 are unable to find a partner and therefore remain single. Chinese families are aware of the critical shortage of girls and their consequences in predicting future marriages: many parents begin to do extra work when their boys are small in order to be able to pay them a bride within a few years. 13

The sex-to-birth index in China, according to a 2012 news article, has declined to 117 boys born to every 100 girls. 62


The 2001 Indian census revealed a sex ratio among children up to 6 years old of 108, which has increased to 109 according to the 2011 census (927 girls per 1000 children and 919 girls per 1000 children respectively, with a normal ratio of 943 Girls per 1000 children). 63 The national average masks the variations of regional numbers in the 2011 census: the Haryana index was 120, the Punyab index was 118, the Jammu and Kashmir index was 116 and the Guyarat index the index was 111. 64 The 2011 census Revealed that the eastern states of India had sex rates between 103 and 104, below normal. 65 Contrary to the national census data for decades, surveys of smaller and non-random populations show higher rates of sex at birth. 66

The Indian sex index in childhood shows a regional pattern. The Indian census of 2011 revealed that the eastern and southern states had an index between 103 and 107, 64 that are considered the natural index. The highest indices were observed in the northern and northwestern states of India: Haryana (120), Punyab (118) and Jammu and Kashmir (116). 67 In the west, the 2011 census of the states of Maharastra and Rajasthan yielded a childhood index of 113, Guyarat was 112, and Uttar Pradesh was 111. 67 Census data from India suggest that Deviation in sex indexes is directly related to socioeconomic status and literacy. Urban areas have a higher sex ratio in childhood than rural areas according to the 1991, 2001 and 2011 censuses, which implies a higher prevalence of selective abortion by sex in urban areas. At the same time, there is a gender index in childhood of more than 115 children per 100 girls in regions where the predominant majority is Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian. In other areas of these religions, “normal” rates of 104 to 106 children per 100 girls are also observed, which would deny the hypothesis that sex selection is an archaic practice among low-education, poor or A concrete religion within Indian society. 64 68

Male / female ratio in India according to official census data between 1941 and 2011. The data suggest the existence of high sex ratios prior to the popularization of prenatal utrasonid and ultrasound technologies in India

Rutherford and Roy, in a 2003 paper, argue that techniques for determining sex during pregnancy – introduced in the 1970s – became very popular in India, 69 and applied in 17 of the country’s 29 states Already in the early 2000s. Sudha and Rajan state in a 1999 report that these techniques favored the birth of males in the states where they existed. 70Arnold, Kishor, and Roy, in a 2000 article, also enunciated the hypothesis that modern gender inquiry techniques have influenced Indian sex indexes in childhood. 71 Ganatra and others, in another 2000 article, use a small sample population to deduce that 1 / 6 of abortions were registered after a sex determination test. 72

Mevlude Akbulut-Yuksel and Daniel Rosenblum, in a 2012 paper, found that despite numerous publications and studies, there is little real evidence of the effects of the popularization of ultrasound on the shortage of women in India. Their conclusion, contrary to the general belief, is that the rapid diffusion of ultrasound in India from the 1990s to the 2000s did not cause a concomitant increase in sex selection and selective abortion of females. Referring to Fig.

The Indian government and various groups continue to discuss ways to prevent sex selection. The immorality of the prenatal sex choice has been questioned and it is argued that prenatal discrimination is worse than postnatal discrimination by a family that did not want a girl. Others question whether a selective abortion by sex is more or less moral than another type of abortion when there is no danger to the mother or the fetus or abortion as a means of ending an unwanted pregnancy. 73 74 75

India passed its first abortion law in 1971, which legalized this practice in most states, but specified legally acceptable reasons for an abortion, such as rape or a medical risk to the mother. The law also established which doctors could legally apply the procedure, and facilities where they could be carried out, but did not provide for sex-selective abortion supported by technological advances. 76 With an increasing to ultrasounds in India access in the 1980s and complaints of abuse of this technique, the Indian government passed the Act Diagnostic Techniques Prior to the conception and birth in 1994, and then added several Amendments in 2004 to detect and punish prenatal ultrasound with a view to selective abortion by sex. The impact of the law and its application is not clear. The United Nations Population Fund and the National Human Rights Commission in India called on the government in 2009 to assess the impact of the law. The Indian Public Health Fund, in its 2010 report, says that this law is unknown in some parts of the country, the competent authorities are mostly inactive, there is ambiguity in some clinics offering prenatal care and numerous health care providers are ignorant of the law . 68 The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare focuses on education and media advertisements to raise awareness among medical professionals. The Indian Medical Association attempts to prevent prenatal sex selection by giving its members ‘Beti Bachao’ slogans during their meetings and conferences. 68

MacPherson estimates that in India about 100 000 abortions are performed per year for the simple reason that the fetus is female. 77

Southeast Europe

According to Eurostat and birth data from 2008 to 2011, the sex-to-be-born birth rates in Albania and Montenegro are respectively 112 and 110. 39 In recent years, birth records in Macedonia and Kosovo show high sex ratios at birth : In 2011 the sex index at birth was 108 in Macedonia and in 2010 was 112 in Kosovo. 78 Experts say that this trend indicates that sex-selective abortions are becoming commonplace in Southeast Europe. 3 79 80

United States

As in other countries, selective abortion by sex is difficult to track in the United States because of the lack of data. However, based on the sex indexes of the country, it is rare if we consider the total population. Abrevaya (2009) found that among the first-born, the sex ratio is the usual 102-106 males per 100 females, but also observed that in some cases of Korean, Chinese and Indian parents with a daughter, the index rose to 117 and when They had two daughters, up to 151. 81

While most US fathers do not practice selective abortion by sex, there is certainly a tendency to prefer a male. According to a 2011 survey, if only one child was allowed, 40% of the respondents would prefer a child, while only 28% preferred a child. 82 When asked about prenatal sex selection techniques, such as sperm separation or the choice of embryos from in vitro fertilization, 40% of respondents thought that choosing embryos by sex was an acceptable manifestation of Reproductive rights. 83 These screening techniques are available in approximately half of all American fertility clinics since 2006. 84

It is also important to note the influence of the cultures and traditions that certain minority immigrant groups have brought to the United States. A study conducted at a Massachusetts fertility clinic shows that most couples using techniques such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis were of Chinese or Asian origin. It is believed that this circumstance stems from the social importance of giving birth to a boy in China and other Asian countries. 85

Because of this trend toward gender preference and selection, various bans on sex-selective abortion at the state and federal levels have been proposed. In 2010 and 2011, abortions in Oklahoma and Arizona were banned respectively. Similar laws have been tried in Georgia , West Virginia , Michigan , Minnesota , New Jersey and New York . 83

Other countries

A 2013 study by John Bongaarts 49 based on surveys conducted in 61 countries calculates the sex indexes that would result if couples had as many sons and daughters as they wanted. In 35 countries, according to Bongaarts, the sex-to-birth rate would be greater than 110 children per 100 girls if the parents could choose (greater than that of India, which the Economist says is 108). 40

Other countries with large populations and high sex ratios are Pakistan and Vietnam . The United Nations Population Fund, in its 2012 report, 86 states that the sex index at birth in Vietnam is 111 on average, reaching 116 in the populated region of the Red River Delta . The UN estimates Pakistan’s index at 110, although in urban areas, and Punyab in particular, it surpasses 112 (less than 900 women per 1000 men). 87 Hudson and Den Boer estimate that the resulting deficit is about 6 million girls compared to the number that could naturally be expected in Pakistan. 88 Three different studies indicate that Pakistan suffers the greatest shortage of women in the world. 89Singapore has an index of 108 and Taiwan has had between 107 and 111 in the last 20 years. 90

In other countries outside Southeast Asia, there are also high rates of sex at birth, possibly explained by selective abortions. According to CIA estimates for 2011, among countries with more than 110 children per 100 girls are Albania and the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan .

Estimates of lack of women

Considering that the “normal” sex-to-birth index is between 103 and 107, the estimated number of missing girls varies considerably between researchers and according to expected mortality between women and men. For example, a 2005 study estimated that more than 90 million girls are missing from the projected population of Afghanistan , Bangladesh , China , India , Pakistan , South Korea and Taiwan , and suggested that selective sex-based abortion had a lot to do with This deficit. 2 88 In the early 1990s, Sen estimated the number of missing women in 107 million Coale Klasen 60 million and 89 million in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Western Asia and Egypt . Guilmoto, 12 in her 2010 report, uses recent data (except in Pakistan) and estimates a much smaller number of missing girls, but notes that high sex ratios in many countries have created a gender gulf – that is, A shortage of girls – between 0 and 19 years.

country Difference between
both sexes

0-19 years (2010) 12
 % Of women
under 12
Region Majority religion
Afghanistan 265 000 3.0 South Asia Muslim
Albania 21,000 4.2 South East Europe Muslim
Armenia 35,000 8.4 Caucasus Cristiana
Azerbaijan 111,000 8.3 Caucasus Muslim
Bangladesh 416 000 1.4 South Asia Muslim
China 25 112 000 15.0 Eastern Asia
Georgia 24,000 4.6 Caucasus Cristiana
India 12 618 000 5.3 Eastern Asia Hindu
Montenegro 3,000 3.6 South East Europe Cristiana
Nepal 125,000 1.8 South Asia Hindu
Pakistan 206,000 0.5 South Asia Muslim
South Korea 336 000 6.2 Eastern Asia
Singapore 21,000 3.5 Southeast Asia Buddhist
Vietnam 139,000 1.0 Southeast Asia Buddhist

Reasons for selective abortion by sex

Different theories have been proposed on the possible reasons for selective abortion by sex. Some researchers are choosing cultural conditions on economic, because these deviations index sexes do not exist in sub – Saharan Africa , Latin America and the Caribbean . 2 Other hypotheses suggest an imbalance in access to resources according to sex 77 and attempts to control population growth, such as the implementation of the one-child policy. 54

Some demographers question whether estimates of infanticide or sex-selective abortions are reliable because high rates could be explained by failure to record births for girls. 91 92 These high rates may also be due to natural reasons. 6 19 By contrast, Klasen and Wink suggest that abnormally high rates showing China and India have their primary cause in sex – selective abortion.

Cultural preferences

The reason why sex-selective abortions in China and India have intensified can be seen from the perspective of their cultural and historical circumstances. In general, in times prior to the information age , males were preferred because they were the labor force and represented succession in the family lineage . Work remains important in developing countries like China and India, but the family lineage is much more important.

Selective abortion of female fetuses is more common in areas where cultural norms value boys more for various social and economic reasons. 1 A child is often considered an “asset” who can earn money and support the family, while a daughter is a “passive”, since she will go to another family when she marries and therefore will not help to keep the parents. Selective sex-based abortion is a modern way of continuing the practice of female infanticide or denying girls after-birth care in some families. 93 In addition, in some cultures it is expected that the children take care of their parents when they are old. 94 These factors are compounded by the effect of diseases when calculating the infant sex index, since contagious or non-contagious diseases affect males and females differently. 93

In modern Asia, a large part of the preferences that lead to this practice can be condensed into a simple desire to have a male heir. Monica Das Gupta claims, from data on births in China in 1989, there was no evidence of selective abortions among the first children. However, there is a strong preference for males if the first child is a girl. 93

Disparity of access to resources according to sex

Although there is significant evidence of selective abortion in many countries, especially in India and China, there is also evidence suggesting that certain variations in overall sexual indexes are due to disparate access to resources. As MacPherson (2007) points out, there may be considerable differences in gender-based violence and access to food, medical care and vaccines among boys and girls. This causes high infant mortality among girls, which causes changes in the sex ratio 77

The difference in access to resources seems to be strongly linked to socioeconomic status. Specifically, poorer families are sometimes forced to ration food, and daughters are usually given less priority than children (Klasen and Wink 2003). However, a 2001 study by Klasen found that this practice is less common among the poorer households, but it increases inordinately in households with slightly higher purchasing power. The 2003 study by Klasen and Wink suggests that this is “related to greater economic dependence on women and less cultural rigidity among the poorest sections of the population.” In other words, the poorest families are less subject to cultural norms and expectations, and of necessity, women often have more freedom to become breadwinners.

The increase in the sex indexes may be caused by disparities in aspects of life other than vital resources. According to Sen (1990), the differences in wages and labor promotion possibilities also have a devastating effect on these indices. This is the reason why high sex ratios are sometimes seen in countries with poor selective abortion practice. 16 In addition, a high level of female education is directly proportional to the low sex ratios (World Bank 2011). 95

Lopez and Ruzikah (1983) found that with the same resources women tend to live longer than men. However, at a global level, resources are not always evenly distributed. Thus, some experts argue that disparities in access to resources such as health, education and nutrition play at least a small role in the high sex ratios observed in some parts of the world. For example, Alderman and Gerter (1997) found that unequal access to health care is one of the leading causes of death among women in developing countries, especially in Southeast Asia. Furthermore, in India, the lack of equal access to health leads to an increase in disease and female mortality in all age groups up to 40 years of age (Sen 1990). This fact is especially notable because in areas of the world where they receive equivalent resources, women tend to outlive men.

Economic hardship alone does not always result in a high sex ratio, according to Sen. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the most economically depressed regions in the world, there is an excess of women. Therefore, if poverty is not related to the sex ratio in Africa, there must be other factors at play. 16 A more detailed analysis of African demographics in 2002 suggests that there are also wide variations in African sex ratios in Africa (from 101 among Bantu populations in East Africa to 108 in Nigeria and Ethiopia). 96

Single-child policy

After the creation in 1949 of the People’s Republic of China, the problem of population control became a national issue. In the early years of the PRC, leaders believed that it was enough to ask citizens to reduce the number of children, bypassing laws prohibiting contraception and promoting their practice. However, contraceptives have not always been easy to get, sometimes because of lack of supply or cultural taboos that prevented talking about sex. After the famine of 1959-1961, the campaigns slowed down, until in 1964 the Office of Family Planning was established, which was moderately successful by applying the strict guidelines on fertility. 97

In 1978, the Chinese People’s Republic instituted the one -child policy , which obliges many families to have only one child, except in cases specified in provincial regulations. This law was an attempt to boost the Chinese economy. Families that violate this rule receive different punishments (especially economic ones), depending on the province in which they live. 98

As mentioned, the sex indexes of a province are mainly determined by the type of restriction that is applied to the families, which indicates that much of the imbalance of this index in China can be attributed to the policy of single child . In 2001, a Junhong study found that many parents do not mind paying to make sure their child is male (especially if they already have a daughter), but they would do so to make sure she was female. 13 In addition, strong economic sanctions for violating the one-child policy make it worth investing in securing a male. Therefore, the cultural and economic importance of males for families and the costs of having more than one child are crucial factors in the high sex ratio in China.

In 2013, China announced plans to reduce restrictions on the one-child policy. The National People’s Congress has changed this policy to allow couples to have two children if one of the spouses is an only child. This change is not caused by the sex indexes, but rather by the aging of the population, which is reducing the labor force. It is estimated that this new law will increase by two million the number of annual births in China, causing a birth explosion. Unfortunately, many of the country’s social problems are rooted in overpopulation, so it is not clear that the new law actually increases the valuation of women in Chinese society by increasing the number of citizens. 99

Hypothesis of Trivers-Willard

The Trivers-Willard hypothesis states that the available resources affect the reproductive capacity of males to a greater extent than that of females, and that consequently, parents should prefer males when there is abundance of resources and females when they are scarce . This theory has been applied to resource differences between people in the same society and also to resource differences between different societies. The empirical evidence is unclear, although according to Cronk, the best studies seem to support the theory. For example, a 1997 study found a preference for women among the Roma Hungarians , a group of low status. According to the study, “they had a sex index at birth favorable to women, and it was more likely to abort a fetus after having one or more daughters, to care for the girls longer and to have given them a longer education.” 100


Pathologies linked to sex, such as some forms of color blindness, are related to the recessive genes of the X chromosome . Preimplantation genetic diagnosis can identify some serious genetic pathologies in the embryo . The simplest way to avoid the embryos that could have one of these pathologies is to choose female embryos. Embryos that are not implanted are usually removed.

Social effects

Lack of women

Amartya Sen, one of the pioneers in the study of high indices and their global causes, was the first to express the idea of ​​the “lack of women” in 1990. To illustrate the seriousness of the situation, she calculated the number of women Were not alive because of selective abortion or discriminatory practices. He found that the number of women was 11% lower than it should be if China had a natural sex index. This percentage, combined with global statistics, shows a total of more than 100 million “lost” women. In other words, in the early 1990s, the number of missing women was “greater than the number of victims of all famines in the twentieth century” (Sen 1990). 16

This fact worries about the critical shortage of wives. In some rural areas, this gap is already evident, linked to migration to urban areas (Park and Cho, 1995). 101 In South Korea and Taiwan , high male rates and declining birth rates in recent decades have led to a rise in multicultural marriages among local men and foreign women from countries such as Mainland China, Vietnam and the Philippines. 102 No However, selective abortion by sex is not the only cause of this phenomenon, it is also related to emigration and the decline in the birth rate. 101

Trafficking of women and sex workers

Some experts argue that as the proportion of women is reduced worldwide, there will be an increase in human trafficking and sex work (both forced and voluntary), as more and more people will be willing to do what Either to get a sexual partner (Junhong 2001). 13 There are already reports of systematic trafficking of women from Vietnam , Burma and North Korea to China and Taiwan , where they are sold as wives. 103 In addition, Ullman and Fidell (1989) argue that pornography and violent crimes related to sex (such as rape and sexual assault) will also increase with increasing sex ratio. 104

Social gap between the sexes

As Park and Cho (1995) point out, families in areas with high sex ratios whose children are predominantly male tend to be smaller than those with girls, because the former seem to have used sex selection techniques to achieve their composition “ideal”. 101 Especially in poor areas, large families tend to have more difficulty in obtaining resources, since daughters receive fewer resources than their children. 101 Blake (1989) pointed out the relationship between family size and “quality” of childhood. Therefore, if families with daughters remain predominantly large, the social gap between the sexes is likely to increase because of cultural discrimination and lack of resources. 105

Guttentag and Secord (1983) enunciated the hypothesis that when the proportion of males is greater in the world, the odds of more violence and wars increase. 106

Potential positive effects

Some experts believe that when sex ratios are high, women become more valuable because of their relative scarcity. 101 Park and Cho (1995) suggest that being the scarcest women, they may have “greater value for conjugal and reproductive functions.” This situation ends up providing better social conditions, followed by the birth of more girls, and the return of the sex indexes to their natural levels. 101 This statement is supported by the work of the demographer Nathan Keifitz, who in 1983 wrote that when the number of women declines, it improves their relative position in society. To date, however, there is no evidence to support this theory. 107

Belanger believes (2002) that selective abortion by sex could have positive effects on the mother who decides to abort a female fetus, due to the historical duty of having a son who transmits the family name. As mentioned, women improve their social situation when they have a male, but not when they have a girl. In certain regions of the world, where male preference is especially strong, women without male children are treated as outcasts. In these cases, selective abortion is a way for women to ensure a better family status. 108

It is also seen as a benefit for girls of company . With a large surplus of men, it will not be possible for some men to find a future wife. Some of these men will have to resort to the company girls for sex. This can also benefit women who want to look for a future husband. With a surplus of men, women will have a greater selection and choice of a husband. This is also a benefit for female workers. In some areas of China and India there is a shortage of female workers. Many males do not want feminine jobs. This forces companies to pay higher wages to attract the best female workers.

Goodkind (1999) 109 states that selective abortion by sex should not be prohibited only because of its discriminatory nature, but that the possibilities of discrimination over a lifetime should be considered. In fact, selective abortion may eliminate much of the discrimination that women must endure. If families have the option to choose the sex of the fetus and choose not to abort the girls, it is likely that these girls will be more valued when they grow up. In this case, selective abortion could be a more humane alternative to infanticide, neglect or lack of care. Goodkind raises an essential philosophical question: “If prenatal examinations for sex (or sex-selective abortion) were banned, how many deaths after childbirth would be willing to tolerate a society instead of the selective abortions that were avoided?” .

Selective abortion by sex in the context of abortion in general

MacPherson estimates that India continues to produce 100,000 sex-selective abortions each year. 77 In the United States, with 1 / 4 of the Indian population between 1990 and 2007 1.2 million abortions performed annually. 110 In England and Wales , with 1 / 20 of the Indian population, more than 189,000 abortions were performed in 2011 (17.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 40 years). 111 The annual average of the European Union is 30 abortions per 1000 women. 112

Many experts have pointed to the difficulty of reconciling the discriminatory nature of selective abortion with the right of women to control their own bodies. This conflict is manifested especially when laws about selective abortion by sex are discussed. Weiss writes: “For feminists, the most obvious challenge posed by sex-selective abortion is to reconcile their abortion position with moral objections to selective abortion, especially since it is used primarily to suppress female fetuses. Even more difficult is defending a law that prohibits selective abortion by sex. ” 113 As a result, arguments both for and against selective abortion tend to be a reflection of personal beliefs about abortion in general. Warren states that there is a difference between acting according to one’s own rights and acting on the morally sensible choice, which implies that selective abortion is a right, but it is morally reprehensible. Warren also points out that if we want to reverse the trend of selective abortions by sex and high sex ratios, we must try to change the patriarchal society that fosters male preference. 114

Laws and initiatives against selective abortion by sex

A poster in an Indian hospital recalls that prenatal sex determination is a crime


In 1994, more than 180 states signed the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, agreeing to “eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls”. 115 In 2011, the resolution of the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities between Males and Men of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemned the practice of prenatal sex selection. 116

In Canada, a group of parliamentarians led by Mark Warawa try that Parliament adopt a resolution condemning sex – selective abortion. 117 118

The US Congress has debated laws that would outlaw this practice. 119 The legislation failed to pass the House of Representatives . 120

At the state level, laws have been passed against sex-selective abortion in several US states, 121 such as Arizona , where gender-selective abortions have been prohibited since 2011. 121 122 123

Political and media initiatives

Many countries have attempted to address selective sex-based abortion with a combination of media campaigns and policy initiatives.


The Chinese government is increasingly recognizing the role it must play in reducing the national sex ratio. As a result, since 2005 it has sponsored a “campaign of equality between boys and girls”. 124 For example, in 2000, the Chinese government launched the “Let’s Take Care of Girls” initiative. 125 In addition, various levels of government have been modified to protect women’s “political, economic, cultural and social rights.” 124 The Chinese government has also approved policies and actions to reduce the sex index at birth. In 2005, this practice was outlawed in China, in response to the rising sex ratio and as an attempt to reduce it to a more normal rate. 126 The index among the first-born in urban areas did not grow between 2000 and 2005, so there is hope that this movement is developing in the country. 13

UNICEF and the UNPF have partnered with the Chinese government and with grassroots women’s groups such as the China Women’s Federation to promote gender equality in politics and practice, as well as launching various social campaigns to reduce the sex ratio and The excessive infant mortality of the girls. 127 128


In India, according to a study by MacPherson (2007), the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act was heavily publicized by NGOs and government. Many of the ads described abortion as a violent practice, creating a fear of abortion itself among the population. The ads focused on the religious and moral offense that was associated with abortion. MacPherson believes that this media campaign was not effective because part of the population perceived it as an attack on their beliefs, which caused many to refuse to open a dialogue on the subject. 77 This insistence on morality, says MacPherson, increased the fear and shame associated with all abortions, leading to an increase in clandestine abortions in India. 77

The Indian government has initiated education campaigns on its abortion laws and prenatal diagnostic techniques. In her campaigns she tries to correct the errors of the public by emphasizing that the determination of sex is illegal, but abortion is legal in certain cases. The government also supports the implementation of programs and initiatives that aim to reduce gender discrimination, including a media campaign about the social causes that lie behind sex selection 68 129

Other policy initiatives recently adopted by many states in India, says Guilmoto, 12 seek to alleviate girls’ economic inferiority by offering support to them and their parents. These policies grant subsidies and scholarships to girls, with payments linked to each stage of life, such as birth, the end of their immunization schedule, their entry into primary school, the completion of courses 6, 9 And 12 ° or your wedding to a greater age than 21 years. Some states offer higher pensions to parents who raise one or two girls. Others have experimented with a number of innovations in their welfare policies for girls. For example, the esado Delhi adopted an initiative in favor of girls as the initial data seems to be getting lower the birth rate sexes in the state December 130

In popular culture

  • Manish Jha’s ” Matrubhoomi – A Country Without Women” (2003) describes a future dystopia in an Indian village inhabited only by men because of female infanticide, which is reduced to absolute barbarism. 131