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,  especially in parts of People's Republic of China, Korea, Taiwan, and India.
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. 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. Other demographers, however, argue that perceived gender imbalances may arise from the underreporting of female births, rather than sex-selective abortion or infanticide.
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.
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. However, a similar trend does not exist in North Korea, possibly due to limited access to prenatal sex-testing technologies.
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: "...to 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, affecting gender issues related to sex compositions of Indian households. 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).
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. 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.
Since 2005, test kits such as the Baby Gender Mentor have become available for purchase over the Internet. These tests have been criticized for making it easier to perform a sex-selective abortion earlier in a pregnancy. Concerns have also been raised about their accuracy.
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- A conference held in Singapore in December 2005 on female deficit in Asia
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- MSNBC - No Girls Please - In parts of Asia, sexism is ingrained and gender selection often means murder
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- A collection of essays on sex selection in various Asian countries by Attané and Guilmoto
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- NPR, All Things Considered, India Confronts Gender-Selective Abortion, March 21, 2006