Indo-Canadians could be resorting to sex-selective abortions

  • Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Hindustan Times, Toronto
  • Updated: Apr 11, 2016 22:10 IST
In 1961, there were 976 girls under the age of seven for every 1,000 boys in India. By 2011, the figure fell to 914 girls. (File photo)

The phenomenon of selective abortions after sex determination tests that afflicts India might be rife within the Indo-Canadian population, according to two studies that estimated there were nearly 5,000 “missing girls” over the past two decades.

The studies, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) on Monday, spanned nearly 6 million singleton births between 1990 and 2011. This included nearly 178,000 births to mothers born in India.

The researchers “conservatively estimated that 4,472 daughters of Indian immigrants to Canada were unaccounted for over the last two decades – so-called ‘missing girls’ – largely among couples of two Indian-born parents (89.4%), but also among couples including one Canadian-born parent”.

Marcelo Urquia of St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, the lead researcher for both studies, said in an interview: “It shows there is a gender preference among some immigrant groups in Canada and this raises the question whether the disadvantages females have around birth are also present at other life stages.”

That trend is particularly pronounced when parents have already had two daughters, and even more telling when the third birth is followed by an induced abortion.

In a statement accompanying the second study, focussing on the province of Ontario, CMAJ noted: “Among women born in India who already had two girls, the ratio of male to female babies for the third birth was almost double the average, with 196 boys born for every 100 girls.

“If an Indian-born mother with two daughters had had an abortion before the third child, the sex ratio increased to 326 boys for every 100 girls and to 409 boys if the mother had had multiple abortions. If a woman had had an abortion at or after 15 weeks, when ultrasound can determine the sex of the foetus, the sex ratio rose further, to 663 boys for every 100 girls.”

The natural ratio is between 103 and 107 boys for every 100 girls. “These are really skewed,” Urquia said about the numbers uncovered by the Canada-wide studies.

The second study focussing on Ontario looked at more than 1.2 million births between April 1, 1993 and March 31, 2012, including approximately 43,000 Indian-born mothers.

Commentary accompanying this study argued the “results suggest that prenatal sex selection is likely present among first-generation immigrants to Canada from India and provide strong evidence that suggests induced abortions are being used to select infant sex in Canada”.

“We hope that these findings stimulate discussion toward the re-evaluation and development of public health policies aimed at eliminating the practice of prenatal sex selection in Canada,” it added.

Part of the reason for the skewing of the sex ratio could be that foetal ultrasonography technologies are available in the Canadian public health system between 18 and 22 weeks of gestation and can be used to determine gender. The tests can be accessed at private clinics before that period.

India’s 2011 census showed a significant decline in the number of girls under the age of seven and rights activists said they believed eight million female foetuses might have been aborted in the previous decade.

In 1961, there were 976 girls under the age of seven for every 1,000 boys in India. By 2011, the figure fell to 914 girls.

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