Britain’s Missing Girls

Nora Sullivan, M.P.A  

A new report out of the United Kingdom reveals that illegal, sex-selective abortions have potentially reduced the female population of the UK by between 1,500 to 4,700 girls.


The British newspaper, The Independent, launched an investigation into the gender selection induced termination of pregnancy, looking at 2011 National Census data and focusing on certain ethnic communities where male preference is an issue.


The investigative report reviewed data concerning the second children in families as previous studies have shown that many families have been willing to accept a daughter as a first child – but then will use abortion as a method to prevent the birth of a second daughter.  A natural sex ratio at birth is around 1.05 (or 105 boys born for every 100 girls).  Any ratio at 1.08 (108 boys for every 100 girls) or above indicates that some outside factor, most commonly sex- selective abortion, must be at play.  The Independent report found numbers between 1.10 and 1.20.  In China and India, where population control, son preference, and sex-selective abortion are all factors, the sex ratios are as high as 118 and 112 boys born for every 100 girls for the total population.


In January of 2013, the British government released the first statistical data backing up concerns that sex-selection abortions are being carried out in the UK.  A health minister noted that the ratios of male and female births among mothers of certain nationalities may “fall outside the range considered possible without intervention.”


Sex-selective abortion is illegal in the UK.  However, it has become clear over the past few years that these abortions are taking place and that the law is not being enforced.  In 2012, in an undercover investigation, the UK newspaper The Telegraph exposed several doctors as willing participants in sex-selective abortions.  The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) conducted a 19- month-long investigation and, though they admitted having enough evidence to prosecute, decided not to press charges.  The CPS stated it would not be in the “public interest” to enforce the law.


Sex-selective abortion poses a multitude of concerns, both ethical and practical.  As demographer Nicholas Eberstadt points out, the world is now facing a very bleak new form of gender discrimination which manifests itself in sex-selective abortion.  The practice has become so embedded in some societies (most noticeably in China and India, but it can been seen in many other countries as well as in subpopulations in the UK and the United States) that it has begun to skew the sex ratio of the world, with dramatic repercussions.  This practice has caused millions of girls to simply, and silently, disappear.  In the words of Eberstadt, “In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls.”


There are those, however, who cannot bring themselves to admit that the deliberate destruction of a human life, based only on sex, should be prohibited by law as well as by cultural practice.  In a 2012 National Post (Canada) article, for example, Planned Parenthood’s Waterloo Region executive director Angie Murie admitted, “From a macro perspective, I don’t think it’s a very good idea for us to be eliminating women.  But if you look at it at the individual level, which is what we do, I don’t have any right to say that one person’s reason is better or worse than another’s.”


Sex-selective abortion is an ultimate form of gender discrimination.  Deciding that an unborn baby is unworthy of life based entirely on the fact that she is a girl is lethal sexism. The fact that these abortions continue to take place is unnecessary and tragic – a tragedy for each life, each little individual nameless girl, lost.  But it is also a tragedy that our society has allowed this to continue.  If we are to call ourselves civilized we must address this issue seriously and see that proper protections are in place for the sake of our girls.



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