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Sex-selective abortion is the practice of terminating a pregnancy based upon the predicted sex of the fetus. The selective abortion of female fetuses is most common in areas where cultural norms value male children over female children, [1] especially in parts of People's Republic of China, Korea, Taiwan, and India.[1][2]

A 2005 study estimated that over 90 million females were "missing" from the expected population in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan alone, and suggested that sex-selective abortion plays a role in this deficit.[2][3] Some research suggests that culture plays a larger role than economic conditions in gender preference and sex-selective abortion, because such deviations in sex ratios do not exist in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.[2] Other demographers, however, argue that perceived gender imbalances may arise from the underreporting of female births, rather than sex-selective abortion or infanticide.[4][5][6]

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. Prior to this, parents would alter family sex compositions through infanticide. Even today, there are no scientifically proven and commercialized practices that allow gender detection during the first trimester, and ultrasound is fairly unreliable until approximately the 20th week of pregnancy. Consequently, sex selection often requires late term abortion of a fetus close to the limit of viability.

Sex-selection practices are also believed by some to occur among South Asian immigrants in the United States, though there is a lack of evidence to prove such claims. A study of the 2000 United States Census observed definite male bias in families of Chinese, Korean and Indian immigrants, which was getting increasingly stronger in families where first one or two children were female. In those families where the first two children were girls, the sex ratio of the third child was observed to be 1.51:1 in favor of boys.[7]

Societal effects

Gender bias can broadly impact a society, and it is estimated that by 2020 there could be more than 35 million young "surplus males" in China and 25 million in India.[8].

It is possible that sex-selective abortions have caused an increase in the imbalances between sex ratios of various Asian countries. Studies have estimated that prenatal sex selection has 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.[9] However, a similar trend does not exist in North Korea, possibly due to limited access to prenatal sex-testing technologies.[10]

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".[9]

Sex-selective abortion has been seen as worsening the sex ratio in India, affecting gender issues related to sex compositions of Indian households.[11] 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).[12]

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.[13] As most Chinese families are given incentives to have only one child, and would often prefer at least one son. Researchers have expressed concern that prenatal sex selection may reduce the number of families in the next generation.[14]

Since 2005, test kits such as the Baby Gender Mentor have become available for purchase over the Internet.[15] These tests have been criticized for making it easier to perform a sex-selective abortion earlier in a pregnancy.[16] Concerns have also been raised about their accuracy.[17][18]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 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.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 A. Gettis, J. Getis, and J. D. Fellmann (2004). Introduction to Geography, Ninth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 200. ISBN 0-07-252183-X
  3. Layout 1
  4. M. G. Merli and A. E. Raftery. 1990. "Are births under-reported in rural China? Manipulation of statistical records in response to China's population policies", Demography 37 (February): 109-126.
  5. Johansson, Sten; Nygren, Olga (1991). "The missing girls of China: a new demographic account". Population and Development Review 17 (1): 35–51. doi:10.2307/1972351.
  6. Merli, M. Giovanna; Raftery, Adrian E. (2000). "Are births underreported in rural China?". Demography 37 (1): 109 126.
  7. Roberts, Sam (June 15, 2009). "U.S. Births Hint at Bias for Boys in Some Asians". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  8. "Surplus Males: The Need for Balance." (Fall 2000). Bridges. Retrieved March 13, 2007.
  9. 9.0 9.1 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.
  10. Goodkind, Daniel. (1999). Do Parents Prefer Sons in North Korea?. Studies in Family Planning, 30 (3), 212-218. Retrieved March 13, 2007.
  11. Sabarwal, Shwetlena. Son Preference in India: Prevelance, Trends and Agents of Change. Retrieved March 13, 2007.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Goldberg, Carey (2005-06-27). "Test reveals gender early in pregnancy". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  16. Masters, Clare (May 12, 2007). "Pick-your-baby test investigated". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2012-09-07. Retrieved 2007-05-18.
  17. Boyce, Nell (2005-09-29). "Critics Question Accuracy of Fetus Sex Test". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  18. Boyce, Nell (2005-10-10). "Questions Raised Over Accuracy of Gender Test". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-01-23.

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