British Indian women are going abroad to abort their baby girls because of pressure on them to have boys, a journalist has warned.
Kishwar Desai pointed to statistics from the University of Oxford which estimate almost 100 baby girls are “disappearing” from British Indian families every year.
Lady Desai, who was born in Ambala, Northern India, said that while her own parents were “delighted” at her birth, other relatives were “horrified” at the birth of a girl.
“By most western standards this is horrific, but in India – and, by extension, in Indian emigrant communities throughout the world – the brutal practice makes sound economic sense”, Lady Desai said.
She added: “Jewellery, cash, cars, even houses – the value of the dowry an Indian girl’s family must pay to the family of her future husband can run to tens of thousands of pounds”.
“Marrying off one daughter can be expensive, but two, three… that can be ruinous”, she said.
In India abortion on the grounds of sex is, Lady Desai said, “technically illegal”, but statistics show a drop in the ratio of baby girls to boys, indicating that abortions are taking place for this reason.
“In 1991, the child sex ratio was already a depressed 945 girls per 1,000 boys in India – instead of the usual 950.
“But by 2001 it was down to 927, and in some of the worst regions, such as Punjab and Delhi, it’s heading towards 800″, Lady Desai said.
She said that estimates varied as to how many Indian women are now ‘missing’ from the population there but, she said, “it’s thought to be somewhere between ten and 35 million over the past 20 years”.
“Female foeticide, gendercide – call it what you will – it’s a terrible and chilling statistic”, she added.
She said in Mumbai, India, bodies of newborn baby girls had even been found washed up on the beach.
The journalist described her own family situation: “When I was born many moons ago in Ambala in Northern India, I was fortunate that my parents were delighted by my arrival; they’d wanted a daughter.
“But other relatives were horrified and my mother remembers being taken to a neighbour’s house, where the matriarch was to be found sitting on her daybed.
“My mother was told firmly that the matriarch had buried six daughters. The visit was supposed to teach her a lesson she would never forget.”
“It didn’t work for my mother, but such harsh lessons have certainly left their mark on millions of other Indian women”, she added.
In the UK the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority bans sex selection in fertility treatment and groups which formerly offered such services in London, Birmingham and Glasgow have now closed down.