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Gender-based abortions increase in India despite strict laws

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Female babySummary of story from IPS News, July 12, 2011

Sex selection is on the rise in India despite strict laws that prohibit couples from selecting the sex of their unborn children and from discriminating against female foetuses.

Sujatha is a public school teacher and her husband is a civil engineer. They are seemingly law abiding and both are from well-off and educated families in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern state of Kerala.

Yet they recently violated the law when they chose to approach doctors at the Sree Avittam Thirunal Hospital for a sex-selective abortion of their girl foetus.  They were granted one within a month.

Abortions are legal in India only for certain reasons, for instance if the mother is ill and pregnancy would endanger her life or if a foetus is found to be severely handicapped.

But a survey conducted in Mumbai revealed that both doctors and patients disregard legal warnings and that abortions have been carried out even in the advanced stages of pregnancy after the discovery that the foetus was female.

Sources in the central health department said that between 2003 and March this year, 805 cases had been filed against doctors for violating the law, resulting in 55 convictions.

But even with the current laws in place, educated urban couples like Sujatha and her husband are opting for sex-selective abortions and contributing to a decline in the female population.

A study led by Dr Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Global Health Research and published in the British medical journal ‘The Lancet’ estimates that up to 12 million selective abortions of girl foetuses had occurred in India in the past three decades.

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