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Sex-Selective Abortion in India


Estimates on the Occurrence of Sex-Selective Abortion in India and Some Possible Solutions to Eliminate the Practice

Due to a strong, culturally-rooted preference for sons in many parts of the world, millions of girls have been selectively aborted merely because their parents had wanted a boy instead. 

In some patriarchal cultures, strong son preference leads to the practice of sex selection—methods some parents use to select the sex of their child, including sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, or post-birth neglect or abandonment. 

In decades past, the practice of sex selection primarily involved neglect of daughters and female infanticide. Since the introduction of ultrasound technology made it easy and affordable for parents to find out the sex of their child prior to birth, the practice of sex-selective abortion became widespread in many parts of eastern and southern Asia, the Caucasus, and the Balkans. Most of these selective terminations have occurred in either China or India. 

In India, we have found that approximately 15.8 million girls have gone ‘missing’ at birth due to sex-selective abortion since 1990. Due to varying assumptions on what the expected sex ratio at birth should be in the absence of sex selection, however, the actual number of sex-selective abortions in India could range from as low as 11.1 million to as high as 20.2 million.

Some facts about India’s sex-selective abortion crisis

by the numbers:


Since 1990, approximately 15.8 million girls in India have been eliminated through sex-selective abortion and other forms of prenatal sex selection.


Nearly 550,000 girls are selectively aborted every year in India.


In India today, approximately 111 boys are born for every 100 girls.


Approximately 4.1% of all female live births since 1990 have been prevented by the practice of sex-selective abortion.

What is sex-selective abortion?

Sex-selective abortion is the abortion of a preborn child simply because the child’s sex was not what the parents wanted.

In countries where culturally-rooted son preference is common, sex-selective abortion is used as a means to attain a couple’s desired number of sons and desired family composition. Sex-selective abortion constitutes violence against women and is a serious violation of the fundamental rights and equal dignity of women.

What is sex selection?

Sex selection is the elimination of unwanted daughters (or sons) through preconceptional, prenatal, or postnatal means. Preconceptional means of sex selection include selective in vitro fertilization (IVF) methods including sperm sorting. Prenatal means include sex-selective abortion and destruction of female embryos conceived through IVF. Postnatal sex selection includes female infanticide or neglect. Due to cultural biases against women, parents often give daughters lower priority than sons when allocating food, immunization, or providing access to health care. As a result, girls in many patriarchal societies suffer disproportionately higher mortality rates than they would if gender bias did not exist.

What are sex ratios?

A sex ratio represents the number of males to females in a population. A sex ratio at birth represents the number of males to females born in a given year. In most countries, the sex ratio at birth ranges between 103-107 boys born for every 100 girls. In countries where the sex ratio at birth far exceeds 107, this is an indication that sex selection is being practiced on a wide scale.

Sex Ratio at Birth by State in India

India, SRB, NFHS-4, blue, website (lower res)

What are the causes of sex-selective abortion in India?

What Steps Has the Government of India Taken to Combat Daughter Elimination?

Sex Ratio at Birth: India, 1970-2018

India Sex Ratio at Birth, 1970-2018

What are some possible solutions for ending India's sex-selective abortion crisis?