Sex Selective Abortions

By Harpreet Kaur, UILS, Chandigarh

Editor’s Note: This paper analyses in detail sex selective abortions in India. It describes the crisis with reference to the alarming sex ratio in the country and examines the causes for the decreasing number of females in the nation- religious beliefs, patriarchal setup etc. It also dwells on different theories like the Malthusian theory and the feminist ideologies to explain these abortions. The conflict between sex selective abortions and reproductive rights has also been examined. Legislations like the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and the Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques Act have been analysed to find out the lacunae in the existing law. Solutions on tackling the issue have also been proposed.”

Status of Women in Indian Society

India is the world’s largest democracy and was one of the first countries to grant women the right to vote (in 1928). The In­dian Constitution is firmly grounded in the principles of liberty, fraternity, equality and justice[i]. It affirms[ii] equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

India is also a land where ancient scrip­tures revere women as living symbols of the Mother Goddess[iii]. Yet paradoxically, these same traditions deny women many basic rights, such as the right to life, right to equality, right to food, right to perform the final rites of their parents etc. In spite of the rapid modernization experienced by some segments of Indian society, general social attitudes towards women have not kept pace with the country’s economic and political development[iv].

The Making Of Crisis

A country’s child sex ratio[v] can reveal that country’s social attitude towards its girl-children. Under natural circumstances, slightly more boys than girls are born each year[vi], but during the last century India has experienced an almost continuous increase in the overall ratio of males to females, mainly because of excess mortality of girls. During the last two decades the ratio of males to females at birth has also increased as pre-natal sex determination techniques have become available[vii].

The discriminatory practices against females-both before[viii] and after birth[ix]– that prevail in some parts of India are extreme by any standards. One wonders just where this invidious practice of female specific abortion is going. That is, what is likely to happen in future? Clearly, for a country that is so vast and varied, there can be no simple answer to this question. However, in the end that matter will depend upon how people come to value the lives of girls and women relative to those of men and boys[x].

Statistics As Per Census Reports

India is one of a handful of countries that has significantly more males than females. The problem is particularly severe at younger ages; the child sex ratio in the age group 0-6 years (i.e., the number of girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 year’s age group) has declined steadily – from 964 in 1971 to 962 in 1981, 953 in 1991, 927 in 2001, and 914 in 2001. In northwestern states like Punjab and Haryana, the child sex ratio has fallen be­low 900[xi]. In the capital, Delhi, the ratio is as low as 868, while it is only 770 in one district in Haryana state. Even though sex ratio at birth favors males, higher female longevity usually results in overall popula­tions with an average 1,050 women per 1,000 men. However, according to the 2001 census, men outnumber women[xii] in India (934 women per 1,000 men).

Analysis of data from India’s 2001 census reveals that between 22 and 37 million females are missing from its population. Some argue that natural population trends are causing this shift, but demographic factors alone cannot explain the disparities in the numbers. It is widely acknowledged that this skewed sex ratio is a result of sex-selective abortions (female feticide), the practice of killing infant girls (female infanticide) and neglect of the girl-child (re­sulting in increased mortality rates for girls). The steep decline[xiii] of the sex ratio in many parts of India is evidence of a deepening crisis.

The data from the Indian 2011 census has refocused the world’s attention on the dark side of India’s demographic change – a low and falling ratio of girls to boys. For the last 40 years, each successive census has found the number of young girls shrinking relative to boys. Interestingly, the deterioration in the child sex ratio has occurred in the face of rising living standards and improvements in every other indicator of demographic change and human development – average life expectancy, infant mortality, male and female literacy, fertility rate, and schooling enrollment of children[xiv].

As per census report of 2011[xv] state with highest sex-ratio is Kerala with 1,084 females per 1000 males and state with lowest sex-ratio is Haryana with 877 females per 1000 males. The overall sex-ratio of India is 940 females per 1000 males. This is the highest Sex Ratio recorded since Census 1971 and a shade lower than 1961. This increase in Sex Ratio was observed in 29 States/UTs. But three major States (J&K, Bihar & Gujarat) have shown decline in Sex Ratio as compared to Census of 2001. But the state with lowest child sex ratio is still Haryana[xvi] with just 830 girls per 1000 boys and state with highest child sex-ratio is Mizoram with 971 girls per 1000 boys. Increasing trend in the Child Sex Ratio (0-6) seen in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram and A & N Islands. In all remaining 27 States/UTs, the Child Sex Ratio show decline over Census 2001.

Causes for Sex Selective Abortions

Gender As A Choice

For thousands of years a deeply interna­lized preference for sons has existed among Indian parents and it cuts across religious/caste divisions, economic seg­ments, rural/urban divides and educa­tion levels. This preference for sons has evolved from a variety of economic, so­ciological and religious factors. It is widely believed that sons will provide economic support for parents in old age, carry the “good name” of the family forward and add status to the family. A woman’s status in her family is often tied to the number of sons she bears: “May you be the mother of a hundred sons.[xvii]

In contrast, a daughter is seen as an eco­nomic liability due to the expense of her dowry and wedding. Though the practice of dowry is officially prohibited by a 1961 law, it continues nevertheless. Over the last two to three decades, the value of dowries has increased sharply, and the practice has crept into communities where traditionally dowry was not practiced. It is not uncommon for families to use their entire life savings or go into terrible debt to pay for daughters’ marriages. A daughter is also seen as a social liability since she needs to be protected and married off into a family of equal or higher social status, in whose house she will live. According to one idiom, raising a girl-child is like “water­ing another man’s garden[xviii].”

Patriarchal Beliefs

Indian society is based on extreme patriarchal beliefs. The identity of a woman in an Indian society is not independent, but dependent on men. They are either known as the daughters, wives, or mothers. Of these three identities, the role as a mother is the most important one. “It is not only that motherhood brings status to woman but also it is an attribute without which she is useless”[xix]. Being a mother is an achievement for Indian woman. However, the gender of the child plays a big difference in the pride of being a mother. “The birth of a son is perceived as an opportunity for upward mobility while the birth of a daughter is believed to result in downward economic mobility of the household and the family”[xx]. The birth of the girl comes as a burden to the parents especially during the marriage. It’s a tradition in India to give dowry to the groom’s family by bride’s parents. Since dowry is an unaffordable factor, parents choose not to give birth to daughter.

To make matters more complicated, the Indian government mounted a massive campaign in the 1970s and 1980s—“Hum do, hamare do” (We are two and we have two)—aimed at reducing family size and controlling population growth. In some states where this two-child policy was implemented, people with more than two children were automatically disqualified from political office at the level of grass­roots governance. Given the resulting shift in family size, families have a tremendous desire that at least one of their two chil­dren be male[xxi].

In the context of these social and gov­ernmental pressures, modern technol­ogy—amniocentesis[xxii] and ultrasound[xxiii]—has arrived that can easily identify the sex of a fetus within the first few months of pregnancy. The ease with which sex de­termination can now be performed has contributed to an increase in sex-selective abortions in India. The traditional approach to sex selection—the neglect of girl-children with respect to nutrition, health care, education, opportunities, love and care—has now been replaced by simpler, more accessible and more affordable technology that eliminates females before they are born. Some estimate that more than 100,000 abortions of female fetuses occur each year.[xxiv]

In the 1980s, when mobile ultrasound units first became available in rural Haryana, they advertised their services by saying: “Spend 500 rupees now and save 500,000 later[xxv].” Five hundred rupees (approximately US$12) on a sex determination test could save a family 500,000 rupees (approxi­mately US$11,500) on a daughter’s future dowry. With the shift to fewer children and a desperate, continuing desire for at least one son, there is an increased acceptance of the use of sex determination tests to conceive sons, while not exceeding the desired number of children.

Women Not Valued

According to some sociologists[xxvi], sex-selective abortion occurs in places where there is already huge gender discrimination. It is not a new phenomenon either. Before ultrasound allowed parents to find out whether they were having a boy or a girl, parents practiced infanticide.

“The thing is girls are not valued, they are not given their due and because of a high rate of gender-based violence happening in the world, parents feel a girl child needs much more protection and does not see them as empowered,” some sociologist say.

While it is much more difficult to tackle such deep-seated attitudes, the good news is that governments are starting to understand the implications of sex selective abortions and skewed gender ratios. India has banned disclosing the sex of the unborn baby to parents during ultrasound tests and But as often is the case, implementation of such legislation remains far less than adequate, and as long as current practices and attitudes prevail in society if there is a choice, parents would have a son compared to a daughter.


Even though sex-selective abortion is unlawful, it is widely practiced.  The main reason, according to experts, is the difficulties of raising a daughter and cost of her marriage.[xxvii] Theories that lucidly support this act are very hard to find. However, the motives can be based on a demographic theory known as Neo- Malthusian theory. The practice of sex-selective abortion in India is also highly facilitated with patriarchal beliefs that run the society.  In the course of research, it was discovered that the majority of feminists strongly rebuke the practice of sex-selective abortion and support the government restrictions. However, some feminists condemn the government regulations on sex-selective abortion, arguing that by restricting abortion, the government is controlling the women’s Right to Reproduction.[xxviii]

Malthusian and Neo-Malthusian Theory

The first theory that supports the idea behind sex-selective abortion is Neo-Malthusian theory. Neo-Malthusian theory advocates population as strength of the nation; nevertheless it argues, by population it means “effective”, “vigorous” population, “not a weak and comparatively useless one”[xxix]. In Indian society, women are viewed as relatively weaker part of the population, which makes them vulnerable and a weakness of the society. Malthus argues that when the population outnumbers the food available, the growth of population is halted by two means; one he called the positive check that is hunger famine and pestilence; and the other, preventive check, that is the foresight of difficulties regarding the rearing of the family[xxx]. Malthusian theory on dealing with population and famine is also relevant while describing the status of impoverished Indian female babies. Indian male-dominated beliefs prefer a death of a daughter than a son. The impoverished families who cannot afford sex-selective abortion kill their daughters in hunger.  In case of Indian sex-selective abortion the Malthusian idea of preventive check is more germane as the dowry system increases the difficulties in rearing a daughter more than a son.

Cultural Theory of Patriarchy

The Indian society is highly male dominated. Son preference is the factor that every family in India induces. A son’s birth is a privilege for a mother. Thus the dilemma of being the second sex and yet craving for the first is resolved thorough the practice of patriarchy.[xxxi] A son is considered an extra hand to help the family income whereas a daughter is looked down as a burden to the family.

The defining cause for sex-selective abortion is the preference given to a son supported by the prevalent patriarchal beliefs. The cultural theory of patriarchy supports the vulnerability of women in the Indian society. It supports the idea that women are a weaker part of the population to be regulated by the laws that their counterparts implement. Son preference is buttressed with the economical background. Sons are physically stronger than daughters and can work harder to elevate the family’s economical status. Son also brings a large amount of economic commodities in form of dowry along with the bride who can later help in minor household chores. In modern India, another economic factor for son preference is the prospect of migrations of sons to Gulf or Western countries.[xxxii] Whether it is for the economic reasons or for the assertion of power and prestige, son preference is a wide practice within Indian society. This practice has exacerbated the conditions of women in the Indian society making them helpless and weak.

Feminist Ideology

Feminist theory aims to understand the nature of gender inequality and focuses on gender politics, power relations and sexuality. Feminism is also based on experiences of gender roles and relations[xxxiii]. Overall, Feminism is an ideology that supports the empowerment of women. Most of the feminists refute the practice of sex-selective abortion. The practice of sex-selective abortions stands at the heart of the issues that they condemn. The practice of sex selective abortion means taking away a life of a female foetus because it is a female foetus. The femininity of that foetus defines its death. “Feminists and their allies say that sex-selection is one of the most stupendously sexist acts in which it is possible to engage[xxxiv].” The societal acceptance of female foeticide and infanticide has made the whole Indian society sexists and biased towards the female population.

“Sex selective has been attacked as immoral by feminists for different reasons. Some oppose sex selection and other new reproductive technologies, as part of historical process by which men have progressively taken control of women’s reproductive right.  Some have predicted that increases in the relative number of males will produce more violent societies, increased sexual exploitation of women and children, and a loss of personal liberty and social and political influence of women.

 However, within the grounds of feminism, feminists contradict each other on the issue of sex-selective abortion. The main issue concerning the contradiction among the feminists regarding sex-selective abortion revolves around the rights of reproduction. In one case, feminists argue, the women involved in sex-selective abortion may be forced by her family members violating her right to reproduction. In other, feminists condemn the government acts to control Sex-selective abortion by arguing that the laws implemented stands against the women’s right to reproduce, as it is not allowing women to abort her fetus. The on-going debate among the feminists regarding the legality and morality on sex-selective abortion is not yielding any thing for the victims of the sex-selective abortion[xxxv].



Two laws that prohibit the sex selection of a fetus in India are the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP), as amended in 2002, and the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), as amended in 2002.  The former Act prohibits abortion except only in certain qualified situations, while the latter prohibits the sex selection of a fetus with a view towards aborting it[xxxvi].

The laws of India do not permit abortion.  The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP)[xxxvii] Act, which prohibits abortion, was enacted with a view towards containing the size of the family.  However, in some cases the desire for a small family may have outweighed the desire for a child of a specific gender, leading to abortions where the sex of the fetus was different from that desired by the family.  The MTP Act stipulated that an abortion might lawfully be done in qualified circumstances.  But the unscrupulous connived to misuse the law to have abortions conducted for the purpose of sex selection.

Later, innovative technologies made sex selection easier, and without the regulations to control the use of such technologies, these technologies began to be misused for sex-selective abortions.  These actions necessitated enactment of the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT)[xxxviii] in 1994.  This act was amended in 2002 in an effort to close loopholes contained in the original act.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act

Under the Indian Penal Code, causing an abortion, even if caused by the pregnant woman herself, is a criminal offense, unless it is done to save the life of the woman.  The offense is punishable by imprisonment for a period of three years, by fine, or by both[xxxix].

With the passage of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, India became first country in the developing world to legalize induced abortions albeit under certain circumstances[xl]. The MTP Act provides for an abortion to be performed by a registered medical practitioner in a government hospital provided, in his opinion:

  • continuance of the pregnancy, (which at the time must not exceed twelve weeks and);
  • involves a risk to the life of the woman or a grave injury to her physical or mental health; or,
  • There is a substantial risk that the child, when born, would suffer such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped[xli].

A pregnancy caused by rape is presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman[xlii].  The Act also allows an abortion to be performed when the pregnancy occurs due to the failure of any device or method used by any married woman or her husband for the purpose of limiting the number of children.  Where the pregnancy is more than twelve weeks but less than twenty weeks, the opinion regarding the medical necessity for an abortion in the above circumstances must be formed in good faith by two medical practitioners.  When the pregnancy is less than 12 weeks, the opinion of one medical practitioner is necessary for the approval of an abortion.  All abortions must be performed in a government hospital, regardless of the length of the pregnancy.

Pre- Natal Diagnostics Techniques Act

The PNDT Act of 1994[xliii], later amended in 2002[xliv], was enacted with the objective as stated in the Preamble:

“ …to provide for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception, and for regulation of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for the purposes of detecting genetic abnormalities or metabolic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities or certain congenital malformations or sex-linked disorders and for the prevention of their misuse for sex determination leading to female feticide and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

Thus, the PNDT Act prohibits the use of all technologies for the purpose of sex selection, which would also include the new chromosome separation techniques.

With the blanket prohibition[xlv] contained in sections 3, 4 and 5 of the PNDT Act, there is effectively a ban on sex selection in India.  It is not possible to use pre-natal diagnostic techniques to abort fetuses whose sex and family history indicate a high risk for certain sex-linked diseases, or to choose a fetus whose sex is less susceptible to certain sex-linked diseases. While it is legally permissible to abort a fetus at risk of serious physical or mental disabilities, it is not permissible to select a fetus of a sex, which is less likely to suffer from a sex-linked disease.

The PNDT Act primarily provides for the following:

  • Prohibition of sex selection, before and after conception.
  • Regulation of prenatal diagnostic techniques (e.g., amniocentesis[xlvi] and ultrasonography[xlvii]) for the detection of genetic abnormalities, by restricting their use to registered institutions.  The Act allows the use of these techniques only at a registered place, for a specified purpose, and by a qualified person who is registered for the purpose.
  • Prevention of the misuse of such techniques for sex selection, before or after conception.
  • Prohibition of the advertisement of any techniques used for sex selection as well as those used for sex determination.
  • Prohibition on the sale of ultrasound machines to persons not registered under this Act.
  • Punishments for violations of the Act- Violations carry a five-year jail term and a fine of approximately of Rupees 10,000. All offenses are cognizable when police may arrest without a warrant.  They are also non-bailable and non-compoundable[xlviii].

The Act prohibits and penalizes the use of any form of technology to determine and disclose the sex of a fetus. The Act specifically prohibits any person, such as a husband or family member, from pressuring the woman to seek or undergo any pre-natal diagnostic testing for the purposes of determining the sex of the fetus. It also prohibits and punishes any advertisements relating to pre-natal sex determination.  The Act allows for the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for the detection of genetic abnormalities or pregnancy complications but restricts those procedures to specific registered institutions and by qualified personnel who have to abide by clear rules set fort in the Act. The Act allows for penalties of five years in jail and a fine of USD $200-$1,000. The Act continues to be amended to address newer technologies for the selection of sex before and after conception.

Indian laws do not, under any circumstance, allow sex determination tests to be undertaken with the intent to terminate the life of a fetus developing in the mother’s womb, unless there are other absolute indications for termination of the pregnancy as specified in the MTP Act of 1971.  Any act causing the termination of the pregnancy of a normal fetus would amount to feticide, and in addition to rendering the physician criminal liable, is considered professional misconduct on his part, leading to his penal erasure.

Response To Legislations

The illegal practice of sex selective abortion has demanded action from the government to control the practice. The MTP Act 1971 allows an unwanted pregnancy to be terminated up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, and requires a second doctor’s approval if the pregnancy is beyond 12 weeks[xlix]. Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act is the law that provides an option to abort the child. Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Actprohibits the misuse of antenatal diagnostic tests for the purpose of sex determination, which may lead to the abortion of female fetuses[l]. Since 1994, law in India prohibits the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques (PNDTs) to test the sex of fetus.  The act provides the prevention of the misuse of such techniques for the purpose of sex determination leading to female feticide. A violator of the law is liable to imprisonment of three years and/or a fine up to rupees 10,000[li].

The act of committing sex-selection is illegal; however people are not afraid to try it. The government hospitals do not provide services to people willing to have sex selection. The private clinics provide these services under the table and for a very high price. “Information about sex of a fetus is possible obtain through tests in private clinics/hospitals but at a very high cost[lii].” Experts claim that the root cause of sex-selection is not the availabilities of the technologies but the status of women in the Indian society. Alpana D. Sagar claims, “Efforts to tackle this problem cannot be fragmented but need to be comprehensive. Not only do we have to tackle and control our technology, we need to improve the social position of woman[liii].”

Women of Indian societies are culturally and socially molded to be subordinates of their male counterparts.  Leela Visaria also supports this claim and argues that there exists a deep internalization patriarchal values that are linked to women’s sense of security[liv]. Since the psychology of women of Indian society is controlled by the patriarchal beliefs, they willingly give the control of their lives to their husbands. Some argue, many women opted for female feticide not because they were heartless but because they were genuinely concerned about the fate of the girls who are being increasingly subjected to eve-teasing, molestation and sexual harassment and, after marriage, exposed to the risk of bride burning and dowry death, in the unending demand for dowry from our emerging consumerist society[lv].


Many believed that the act of sex-selective abortion was forced upon women by their husbands and in-laws. However, this has proved to be wrong, the sex-selective abortions are much supported by women of Indian society as well. “Male child preference is not only bound by physical territory, cultural setting, economic and educational access. It also derives its relevance from the urge to establish one’s cultural identity[lvi].” Motherhood is the only chance to uplift the woman’s status in Indian society. First child is the proof of their reproductive ability; therefore the sex of the child is not a matter. However, the second child is the means to achieve their prestige, but only if the second child is the son. This prestige is the only form of respect a woman has in her life, in order to have it she supports the use of sex-selective abortion.

 The reason of sex-selective abortion in India is highly economical too. Janet Hadley exemplifies this reason as such, “‘Boy or Girl? We tell you with 100 percent accuracy… Save 50,000 rupees later by spending 500 rupees now’ proclaimed the hoarding board at Ludhiana, Punjab[lvii].” Here the board is attracting its customers by representing the unaffordable amount of 50,000 rupees as dowry which he or she can save by aborting the girl child right now by only spending 500 rupees. Dowry is a major cause of woman violence in India. The customs of unaffordable dowry has resulted in hundreds and thousands of death of women in India. Dowry is a practice that insists that the parents of the bride give gifts to the groom and his family in large amount. Dowry is incredibly unaffordable to even middle class families, let alone the impoverished ones. “Even commercial minded techno-docs and laboratory owners have been using new reproductive technologies for over two and half decades … The propertied class does not desire daughter/daughters because after their marriage, the son-in-law may demand a share in the property[lviii].”

The religious belief that a son will open the doors of heaven also plays important role among elders to pressure their daughters and daughters-in-law to have a baby boy. The marriage of daughter is also an important factor that determines the choice of parents of not having daughters. With more than one daughter parents get apprehensive about being able to find a suitable match, which comes at a considerable cost[lix]. The cost of marriage and dowry today has become reasons for a lot of Indian mothers to commit to act sex selection. Within the Indian household, women have no say in their reproductive decisions; it is their elders and husband who make the decisions. This is not only prevalent in rural case, but among the higher class and urban areas as well. According to studies on female feticide, urban and upper income groups, who have access to medical facilities, utilize these to practice preference for the desired sex of the child[lx].

With increase in sex-selective abortion in India, there has been contradiction in feminist’s ideologies on the ground of abortion. Some support government’s incentives to control the use of New Reproductive Technologies (NRT) in sex-selective abortion; while others condemn the regulations as government controls in reproductive rights of women. According to Goodkind, “… pro-choice face formidable danger in advocating legislation against, or perhaps even strongly condemning, prenatal sex-selection. The basic reason is that many of these advocates call for government legislation to promote the twin goals of reproductive rights and gender equality[lxi].” The customs of India and the male-dominated policies within the communities of India has resulted in loss of many prospective women who could have been a part of their population.

Effects On Demography

Dr. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize–winning economist who raised the alarm of “miss­ing daughters” in the nineties, and other scholars hold that sex-selective abortions are not only intrinsically cruel and a reflec­tion of the low value that society places on women, but that the resulting skewed sex ratio impedes the development of democ­racy and security[lxii].

By definition, democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people. It rests upon fundamental human rights of equal opportunity/treatment and the freedoms to speak, act and believe in a way that allows people to achieve their dreams. Democra­cy has a simple defini­tion, but very complex demands. Dr. Sen, in his book Development as Freedom, argues that anything that negatively impacts the ability of an individual to enjoy freedom is an “unfreedom,” which can arise from either inadequate processes or inadequate oppor­tunities. Adverse sex ratios reveal the most glaring example of an unfreedom, in which freedom is snatched away from a female fetus, a baby girl or a girl-child. In the case of feticide, the right to life itself is denied to the girl-child even before she is born, rendering all other rights and freedoms irrelevant.

Aside from its threat to democratic principles, India’s skewed sex ratio seems to affect both the treatment of Indian women, in par­ticular, as well as the health of Indian de­mocracy in general.


Female foeticide is not a new practice; it has been committed in many parts of the world during the time of famines and disasters. However, the practice of sex selection through abortion raises a moral question. Is the life of an unborn not valuable because it’s a girl? Is a girl not to be born because one day she will become the burden to her family?  How is the nature going to continue if there are no or less women to reproduce? These are some serious questions, which need to be addressed immediately[lxiii].

Sex selective abortion is the result of son-preference and the dowry system; however the major cause is the social status of women in India. Women are still the subject of domination and subordination. They are still subjected to their husbands’ decision. The cultural and social context of India does not provide the base for women to stand up for themselves. They are taught to be subordinates to their husbands and in-laws. The gender issues in India, be it sex-selective abortion, or women violence, will not be successfully addressed until and unless women themselves value their being and their identity. Government regulations are important to control the number of sex-selective abortion. Nevertheless, government should make policies that empower women and support their identity as a human being rather than someone’s wife or a mother[lxiv].

In conclusion, the issue of sex-selective abortion is a major human rights issue regarding the ‘say’ of women whose fetus is being aborted. In order to address this issue, government of India along with many other interest groups and organizations should make an effort to uplift the situations of women of the country by making women of India realize their importance and the importance of their womanhood[lxv].

Edited by Kudrat Agrawal 

[i] Its preamble promises to all of its people social, economic and political jus­tice as well as liberty of thought, expres­sion, belief, faith and worship.

[ii] Article 14 provides fundamental right to equality and Article 15 of Our Constitution provides that no one shall be discriminated on the basis of caste, sex, religion, place of birth or race.

[iii] And still, women are worshipped in the form of Goddesses such as Maa Durga, Maa Saraswati, Maa Kaali etc.

[iv] Vasu M. & Singh Dr. Meeta, The Rise of sex-selection in India, available at

[v] The number of girls per 1,000 boys in the zero-to-six age group.

[vi] The natural sex ratio in a population typically ranges from 950 to 970 girls per 1,000 boys.

[vii] India is not alone; both China and South Korea have seen significant changes in the sex ratio at birth. Portner Claus C., Sex-Selective Abortions, Fertility and Birth Spacing, available at

[viii] In the form of female foeticide.

[ix] In the form of female infanticide, neglect in nutrition, in property girls are not given any share, girls are considered to be inferior to boys, etc.

[x]Dyson Tim, Foreword, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies: New Delhi, SAGE Publications, 2007, p. 18.

[xi] As per the Census Report of 2001.

[xii] Sex-ratio.

[xiii] Supra, note 11.

[xiv] Nandi Arindam & Deolalikar Anil B, Does a Legal Ban on Sex-Selective Abortions Improve Child Sex Ratios? Evidence from a Policy Change in India, available at

[xv] Available at

[xvi] Haryana also had lowest child sex-ratio as per census report of 2001.

[xvii] Vasu M. & Singh Dr. Meeta, The Rise of sex-selection in India, supra note 4.

[xviii] Vasu M. & Singh Dr. Meeta, The Rise of sex-selection in India, supra note 4.

[xix] Patel Tulsi, “The Mindset behind Eliminating the Female Foetus” in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.142.

[xx] Ibid., at 149

[xxi] Supra note 21.

[xxii] In this technique, amniotic fluid is drawn from the amniotic sac surrounding the foetus in the uterus through along needle inserted into the abdomen. Foetal cells present in the fluid help in determining the sex of the foetus.

[xxiii] In this technique, inaudible (to humans) sound waves are used get the visual image of the foetus. Normally it is used to determine the foetal position or any abnormalities, but it can also be used to find the sex if the external genitalia of the male foetus are seen on the screen.

[xxiv] Quoting Arnold Fred, Kishor Sunita & Roy TK, “Sex-selective abortions in India- Population and Development Review” (2002), from Vasu M. & Singh Dr. Meeta, The Rise of sex-selection in India, supra note 4.

[xxv] Quoting Visaria Leela, “The Missing Girls,” Seminar 532 (December 2003) from Vasu M. & Singh Dr. Meeta, The Rise of sex-selection in India, supra note 4.

[xxvi] Thin Lei Win, “INTERVIEW: Sex-selective abortion ‘vicious cycle’ keeps women subjugated”, available at

[xxvii] Ashish Bose. “Female Foeticide: A Civilizational Collapse”, in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.87

[xxviii] Dhungana Ritu, Sex-Selective Abortion in India, available at

[xxix]Quoting Richard Ussher, “Neo-Malthusianism: An Inquiry Into that System With Regard to its Economy and Morality”, London: Metheun &Co. 1897.p 134 from Dhungana Ritu, Sex-Selective Abortion in India, ibid.

[xxx] Quoting Rao Mohan. “Population Control and Reproductive Health: Malthusian Arithmetic,” New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2004, p 79, from Dhungana Ritu, Sex-Selective Abortion in India, supra note 31.

[xxxi] Patel Tulsi, “The Mindset behind Eliminating the Female Foetus” in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.149.

[xxxii] Ashish Bose. “Female Foeticide: A Civilizational Collapse”, in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.86

[xxxiii] Eastern Kentucky University, “Feminism: What is it?” What is feminism?” available at

[xxxiv] Quoting Hadley Janet, “Abortion: Between Freedom and Necessity,” Temple University Press, 1996. p 94 from Dhungana Ritu, Sex-Selective Abortion in India, supra note 31.

[xxxv] Dhungana Ritu, Sex-Selective Abortion in India, supra note 31.


[xxxvii] The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, No. 34 of 1971, as amended by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, No. 64 of 2002.

[xxxviii] The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, No. 57 of 1994, and the Pre-natal Diagnostic Technologies (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Act, No. 2002, No. 14 of 2003.

[xxxix] The Indian Penal Code, Act No. 45 of 1860, sec.312

[xl] Visaria Leela, “Sex- Selective Abortions in Gujarat and Haryana: Some Empirical Evidence,” in Abortion in India: Ground Realities, (eds.) Ramachandra V. & Visaria Leela, New Delhi: Routledge (Taylor and Fancis Group), 2007, p. 133.

[xli] Supra, note 42, sec. 3(2)(ii).

[xlii] Id., sec. 3(2)(ii) Explanation I.

[xliii] Available at

[xliv] It received the assent of President of India on 17th January, 2003.

[xlv] This blanket prohibition may appear to be a contradiction to the provisions of the MTP Act, which permits the abortion of a foetus that is at a risk of being born with serious physical or mental disabilities.

[xlvi] Supra note 25.

[xlvii] Supra note 26.

[xlviii] Supra, note 43, sec. 27.

[xlix] Quoting Hirve, Siddhivinayak S, “Abortion Law, Policy and Services in India: A Critical Review,” Reproductive Health Matters 12, no. 24 (2004), p. 117, from from Dhungana Ritu, Sex-Selective Abortion in India, supra note 31.

[l] Ibid, p. 120.

[li] Patel Tulsi, “The Mindset behind Eliminating the Female Foetus” in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.145

[lii] Ibid, p. 140

[liii] Alpana D. Sagar. “Social Context of the Missing Girl Child.” in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.198

[liv] Visaria Leela “Deficit of Girls in India: Can it be Attributed to Female Selective Abortion?” in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.74

[lv] Bose Ashish, “Female Foeticide: A Civilizational Collapse”, in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.87

[lvi] Rainuka Dagar, “Rethinking Female Foeticide,” in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.114

[lvii] Quoting Hadley Janet, “Abortion: Between Freedom and Necessity,” Temple University Press, 1996, p 95. from Dhungana Ritu, Sex-Selective Abortion in India, supra note 31.

[lviii] Patel Vibhuti, “The Political Economy of Missing Girls, in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p. 295

[lix] Patel Tulsi, “The Mindset behind Eliminating the Female Fetus”, in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.145

[lx]Rainuka Dagar, “Rethinking Female Foeticide,” in Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies, (ed.) Patel Tulsi, SAGE Publications: New Delhi, 2007, p.96

[lxi] Quoting Daniel Goodkind, “Should Pre-natal Sex-selection be Restricted? Ethical Questions and Their Implications for Research and Policy”, Population Studies 53, no. 1 (1999): p.58 from Dhungana Ritu, Sex-Selective Abortion in India, supra note 31.

[lxii] Supra note 4.

[lxiii] Dhungana Ritu, Sex-Selective Abortion in India, supra note 31.

[lxiv] Supra note 69.


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