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'Female infanticide rampant in India'

About 10 million female foetuses may have been aborted in India over the past two decades, says a research.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2006 19:58 IST

About 10 million female foetuses may have been aborted in India over the past two decades, according to research published online by The Lancet medical journal, today.

A team of scientists who analysed female fertility figures from a national survey of 6 million people in India found that there were about half a million fewer girls born in the country in 1997 than expected. Considering the figures, the number will reach 10 million in the next 20 years.

The scientists said that selective abortion of female foetuses is the most plausible explanation for the skewed sex ratio. "We conservatively estimate that prenatal sex determination and selective abortion account for 0.5 million missing girls yearly," said Dr Prabhat Jha, of the University of Toronto in Canada, who headed the research team.

"If this practice has been common for most of the past two decades since access to ultrasound become widespread, then a figure of 10 million missing female births would not be unreasonable," he added in a statement.

The shocking figures support estimates by the Indian Medical Association, which has said that five million female foetuses are killed in India each year.

The research found that the sex of the previous child was a determining factor in whether a female foetus was aborted. Fewer females are born as second and third children if the first child in a family is a girl. It said lack of girls as a second or third child is more pronounced in educated, rather than illiterate, women.

In a commentary on the report, Prof Shirish Sheth, of Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, said: "To have a daughter is socially and emotionally accepted if there is a son, but a daughter's arrival is often unwelcome if the couple already have a daughter." He said there is published evidence of rampant female feticide in India where daughters are regarded as a liability. "Female infanticide of the past is refined and honed to a fine skill in this modern guise," Sheth added.

Co-author of the report, Dr Rajesh Kumar, of the School of Public Health in Chandigarh, said missing females is a growing problem. "Our study emphasises the need for routine, reliable and long-term measurement of births and deaths," Kumar added.

First Published: Jan 09, 2006 19:58 IST