How low can skewed sex ratios go? According to Disappearing Daughters, a report by ActionAid and the International Development Research Centre, there are now just 300 girls under the age of six for every 1000 boys in some high-caste urban areas of Punjab, India.
The situation has continued to worsen in spite of public information campaigns and a 1994 Indian law that prohibits prenatal sex determination and sex-selective abortion. Disappearing Daughters reports that some medical professionals who routinely violate the ban say that their participation in these practices is a "social duty" because the girls would face discrimination all their lives.
The report also chronicles deaths of girls and female babies through neglect and mistreatment. According to ActionAid's Laura Turquet, "The real horror of the situation is that for women, avoiding having daughters is a rational choice. But for wider society, it's creating an appalling and desperate state of affairs."
The strength of "son preference" in India and other countries is also behind the recently announced IVF-assisted birth of twins - including one boy - to an Indian woman whose age is estimated as 70. "At last we have a son and heir," the woman's 77-year-old husband said.
Disappearing Daughters made the front page of The Telegraph, Calcutta's largest English daily newspaper, and was reported in dozens of other publications in India and around the world. But it appears not to have been picked up by a single U.S. newspaper.
Developments that originate in the U.S. are nonetheless important drivers of sex selection in India and other parts of the world. Scores of thousands of specially designed low-cost ultrasound machines, used for early sex determination throughout India, are manufactured by General Electric. And websites for U.S. companies advertise offer at-home sex determination kits to pregnant women. Voluntary Health Association, a Punjab non-governmental organization, has asked the state Supreme Court to block the website of the Baby Gender Mentor test, whose maker is the target of several ongoing investigations and class action lawsuits for misleading marketing claims, fraud, and other violations.
The authors of Disappearing Daughters conclude that “the rise of sex-selective abortions and neglect of girls is simply the latest manifestation of entrenched gender discrimination, which denies women and girls their most basic rights.” They call for “sustained action on many fronts,” without which, they say, “millions more women will go missing in India.”
Previously on Biopolitical Times: