Over the past decade, an increasing number of families in India appear to be aborting their second child if prenatal tests indicate the child is female, presumably to ensure that at least one child in the family will be a boy, according to a May 24, 2011, study published online in The Lancet. The authors, led by a University of Toronto researcher and colleagues in India, estimate there have been 3.1 to 6 million abortions of female fetuses over the past decade throughout India, most occurring among educated, wealthy families.

In an accompanying Lancet commentary, “Can India Achieve a Balance of Sexes at Birth?” S V Subramanian, associate professor of society, human development, and health at Harvard School of Public Health, and Daniel J Corsi, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, write: “The demand for sons among wealthy parents is being satisfied by the medical community through the provision of illegal services of fetal sex-determination and sex-selective abortion. The financial incentive for physicians to undertake this illegal activity seems to be far greater than the penalties associated with breaking the law.”

The lower than normal female-to-male ratio in India has been a concern since the nation’s first census in 1871, Subramanian and Corsi write. Currently, the ratio in children ages 0-6 years in India—914 girls to 1,000 boys—is the lowest ratio recorded since data became available in 1961, despite improved female literacy and per capita income.

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