India's 2011 Census reveals a serious problem: a big decline in the number of girls younger than 7 years old, a sign that the practice of aborting female fetuses may be on the rise.
According to a report by the BBC, activists think that as many as 8 million female fetuses were aborted over the last 10 years. The only country where the numbers are worse, researchers say, is China, where a "one-child" policy plus a preference for male children has resulted in 250 million fewer births since 1979 and led to a marriage crisis, with 24 million more males than females by 2010, an imbalance attributed to sex-selective abortion.
The BBC talked to Rekha, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter who lives in the lower middle-class Sagarpur neighborhood in Delhi. Last September, when an ultrasound showed that she was pregnant with twin girls, her mother-in-law forced her to have an abortion.
"I said there's no difference between girls and boys. But here they think differently," she told the BBC in an interview. "There's no happiness when a girl is born. They say the son will carry forward our lineage, but the daughter will get married and go off to another family."
It's the opposite of the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate in the United States. In India, as in China, being pro-choice means being able to decide to have your baby rather than endure a forced abortion.Though sex-selective abortions have been illegal in India since 1994-and pre-conception sex-selection was outlawed in 2004-enforcement is lax. In Delhi, the census shows that there are just 866 girls for every 1,000 boys under age 7. Nationwide, there are 914 girls for every 1,000 boys; in 1961, before ultrasounds were readily available, there were 976 girls for every 1,000 boys nationwide.
"What is needed is a strict implementation of the law," Varsha Joshi, director of census operations for Delhi, told the BBC's Geeta Pandey. "I find there's absolutely no will on the part of the government to stop this."
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