Gone Girls

India Is Missing 13.5 Million from Sex-Selective Abortion

India is a country in which the ratio of boys to girls is unnaturally skewed in favor of males. A study published in The Lancet in May showed that millions of girls have been "missing" from India's population over the last thirty years.1

The normal, naturally occurring sex ratio is 103–107 boys born for every 100 girls born. A ratio of more than 107 boys for every 100 girls born does not occur naturally, indicating that some policy or practice, such as sex-selective abortion, has been put into play on a large scale. India's ratio in 2017 was 109.75 to 100.

Using the number of boys born in India in the three decades between 1987 and 2016 as a baseline, the Lancet researchers calculated the number of girls that would have been born in those decades if the sex ratio had been normal.

The actual number of girls born was 13.5 million less, and these constitute India's "missing girls," those who should have been born but never were. Breaking the numbers down by decade shows that the problem has worsened decade by decade:

Missing girls from 1987 to 1996: 3.5 million

Missing girls from 1997 to 2006: 4.5 million

Missing girls from 2007 to 2016: 5.5 million

The Lancet researchers determined that the missing girls can mainly be accounted for by the practice of prenatal gender testing and the subsequent abortion of female fetuses. This practice is legally banned in India, but in a society that strongly favors boys it still goes on, especially in families that already have a daughter.


1987–1996
244 million births
117.03 million girls
boy-to-girl ratio: 108 / 100

The Breakdown

29% of births were first-borns
107 boys / 100 girls

13.2% were second-borns with one earlier son
106 / 100

12.5% were second-borns with one earlier daughter
111 / 100

4.6% were third-borns with two earlier sons
102 / 100

4.9% were third-borns with two earlier daughters
116 / 100

9.2% were third-borns with one son & one daughter
109 / 100


1997–2006
252 million births
120.26 million girls
boy-to-girl ratio: 108 / 100

The Breakdown

31.2% were first-borns
106 boys / 100 girls

14% were second-borns with one earlier son
104 / 100

13.5% were second-borns with one earlier daughter
113 / 100

3.9% were third-borns with two earlier sons
101 / 100

8.4% were third-borns with two earlier daughters
116 / 100

4.8% were third-borns with one son & one daughter
109 / 100


2007–2016
247 million births
117.66 million girls
boy-to-girl ratio: 110 / 100

The Breakdown

37.5% were first-borns
108 boys / 100 girls

15.6% were second-borns with one earlier son
102 / 100

15.5% were second-borns with one earlier daughter
116 / 100

3.2% were third-borns with two earlier sons
103 / 100

5.1% were third-borns with two earlier daughters
131 / 100

7.3% were third-borns with one son & one daughter
114 / 100


A Wide-Ranging Problem

Along with India, the following countries either have skewed sex ratios currently or have shown increasingly skewed sex ratios for births between 1970 and 2017, resulting in more than 23 million missing female births world-wide. Here are their boy-to-girl ratios in 2017:2

Albania
108.35 / 100

Armenia
111.72 / 100

Azerbaijan
113.41 / 100

China
114.35 / 100

Hong Kong
107.83 / 100

Morocco
106.94 / 100

Nepal
107.33 / 100

Taiwan
107.59 / 100

Vietnam
112.23 / 100

Notes
1. "Trends in Missing Females at Birth in India from 1981 to 2016: Analysis of 2.1 Million Birth Histories in Nationally Representative Surveys," The Lancet, vol. 9, no. 6 (April 8, 2021): thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(21)00094-2/fulltext.
2. "Systemic assessment of the sex ratio at birth for all countries and estimation of national imbalances and regional reference levels," PNAS, vol. 116, no. 19 (April 15, 2019): pnas.org/content/116/19/9303.

has an M.S. in chemistry from the University of Texas at Dallas, and an M.A. in bioethics from Trinity International University. She resides in Dallas and currently works as a freelance science writer and educator.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #58, Fall 2021 Copyright © 2022 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo58/gone-girls

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