According to the United Nations, “around 140 million women are believed to be ‘missing’ around the world – the result of son preference, including gender-biased sex selection, a form of discrimination.” Ten years ago, UN agencies, including the OHCHR, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO issued a position paper condemning the elimination of girls.
The UN Population Fund declared last year that sex-selection had terrible consequences for societies. “The rise in sex selection is alarming as it reflects the persistent low status of women and girls. The resulting gender imbalance also has a damaging effect on societies. Instances of increased sexual violence and trafficking have already been linked to the phenomenon.”
Nonetheless, in one of the head-scratching inconsistencies of modern politics, last week the Canadian Parliament voted overwhelmingly against a bill banning sex-selective abortions.
Bill C-233, put forward by Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall, would have made it a crime “for a medical practitioner to perform an abortion knowing that the abortion is sought solely on the grounds of the child’s genetic sex.”
It lost by a margin of 248 to 82, with the Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, NDP and Green Party all voting against it. Members of the Conservative Party had a free vote, and most opposed it, but not the leader, Erin O’Toole. Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef actually called the bill “dangerous”.
The issue, of course, is abortion. Whatever the MPs’ views on “gendercide”, they believe that a vote against sex-selective abortion must be a vote against abortion. And that is unthinkable. “The debate is over,” Ms Monsef declared. “Women and women alone are in control of their bodies and their health care choices. This is not a place for politicians to weigh in.”
Maybe the debate is over, but that is bad news for girls in countries like India.
On March 4, 2010, The Economist ran one of its most memorable covers: a completely black page, except for a pair of tiny pink shoes with frilly bows the bottom. The headline was “Gendercide: what happened to 100 million baby girls?”
Good question. The answer is that they were aborted or killed, mainly in China and India, but in other countries, too. It painted a picture of a tragedy: the intersecting violence of lower fertility, more accurate pre-natal testing, and son preference.
A few years later, in 2017, The Economist was more optimistic: “In India, and in the world as a whole, the war on baby girls seems to be winding down.” It concluded with characteristic aplomb: “Asia has engaged in a demographic experiment with disastrous consequences. It will surely not repeat it.”
Ooops, sorry. Spoke too soon. According to an article in The Lancet Global Health, the sex ratio in India, at least, keeps widening. The natural ratio at birth is about 950 girls per 1000 boys. The researchers found that:
13.5 million female births were missing during the three decades of observation (1987–2016), on the basis of a natural sex ratio of 950 girls per 1000 boys. Missing female births increased from 3.5 million in 1987–96 to 5.5 million in 2007–16. Contrasting the conditional sex ratio from the first decade of observation (1987–96) to the last (2007–16) showed worsening for the whole of India and almost all states, among both birth orders. Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, and Rajasthan had the most skewed sex ratios, comprising nearly a third of the national totals of missing second-born and third-born females at birth.
If the natural ratio is actually 975 to 1000, 22 million girls are missing.
In summary, between 13 million and 22 million Indian girls went “missing” between 1987 and 2016 due to sex selective abortion.
Studies show that Indian couples living in Canada have exported son preference to their new home.
Terrible, awful, disgraceful, etc.
But riddle me this: if Canadian MPs vote overwhelmingly for sex-selective abortions to continue in Canada, what’s wrong with sex-selective abortions in India?