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Millions of missing girls

A new study forecasts negative effects of sex-selective abortions in India

A girl at a festival in Mumbai, India Associated Press/Photo by Rafiq Maqbool (file)

Millions of missing girls

Sex-selective abortions could lead to 6.8 million fewer girls than needed to achieve a balance between the sexes in India, according to a study tracking projected births between 2017 and 2030 published last month by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in the journal PLOS One.

Female neglect, infanticide, abortion, and other factors have so far resulted in a dearth of 63 million women in India, according to 2018 estimates from the government.

“To my knowledge, this is the first study that uses a rigorous statistical model to make predictions about how many sex-selective abortions are likely to occur in the future in India, given the current trends,” said Jonathan Abbamonte of the Population Research Institute.

India criminalized sex-selective abortions in the 1990s, but Abbamonte said poor state-level enforcement of the laws allowed the practice to continue nationwide. Obstetric ultrasounds have made aborting unborn girls simple, convenient, and often expected. Sons have greater income potential because women aren’t valued as highly in India.

“Women who fail to [abort girls] may face poorer treatment, derision, or nagging from her husband or in-laws,” Abbamonte said. “Other times, women who fail to bear a son or who refuse to abort a daughter are subject to verbal or physical abuse, denial of food, divorce, cheating, or abandonment.”

An overabundance of men in countries like India has led to increased loneliness, violent crimes, and sex trafficking, as well as economic problems. Girls in schools face increased harassment, while aging bachelors who live alone struggle with depression and a lack of purpose. Some men in China—where the government’s one-child policy led to a deficit of women—build huge houses to attract wives from the few women available, The Washington Post reported. The imbalance in spending between housing and other goods destabilizes the economy.

Abbamonte said averting the study’s dire predictions will require rigorous and consistent enforcement of India’s existing laws against sex-selective abortion. But cultural change is necessary, too.

“Addressing unequal gender attitudes is crucial to reducing the incidence of sex-selective abortion in the long term, said Abbamonte. “If women are equally valued in society and in family life, the motivation for sex-selective abortion will be greatly diminished.”

Leah Savas

Leah reports on pro-life topics for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.



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