Some call it India's "gendercide". In the past three decades up to 12 million unborn girls have been deliberately aborted by Indian parents determined to ensure they have a male heir.
Once, parents desperate for a son achieved the same end by infanticide. But modern medical technology, and the complicity of the medical establishment, has sanitised the process and made it more socially acceptable. The systematic elimination of female foetuses in the world's biggest democracy is widening the gap between girls and boys and storing up social problems for the future. In some towns there is already a shortage of brides and there are fears the growing gender imbalance will worsen attitudes to women.
Latest research shows selective abortion is concentrated in families where the first child has been a girl. Parents welcome a first daughter but want their second child to be a son. In these families the gender ratio for second births fell from 906 girls per 1,000 boys in 1990 to 836 in 2005, implying between 3.1 million and 6 million female foetuses have been aborted in the past decade.
Wealthier, better-educated couples are the worst offenders, the findings show, putting paid to hopes that socio-economic progress would lead to a change in attitude. Although all strata of Indian society share a preference for sons, better-off families have access to and can afford the ultrasound tests to reveal the sex of a foetus.
Couples believe their family is unbalanced without a son who will continue the family name, earn money, look after his relatives and take care of his parents in old age in a country which has no social security system. Importantly, a girl will marry out of her family, taking her dowry with her, while a boy will bring a dowry into the family, a significant economic advantage.
Jeremy Laurance in The Independent. Here