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Is female foeticide practiced in the UK?

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baby scan, sex discrimination, male female ratio, UK Does gender discrimination begin in the womb in the UK too?

A study by the Independent newspaper has sparked debate over female foeticide in the UK – the practice of aborting a baby because it is a girl.

The investigation claims to have uncovered evidence that sex-selective abortions are affecting the male–female ratio of babies being born within some ethnic groups, and the practice has led to the ‘disappearance’ of between 1,400 and 4,700 girls in both England and Wales.

The newspaper reported ‘widespread discrepancies in the sex ratio of children in some immigrant families, which can only be easily explained by women choosing to abort female foetuses in the hope of becoming quickly pregnant again with a boy’.

The preference for boys above girls is prevalent in many cultures where girls are seen as a burden, primarily because of their dowry systems, which can cost families significant sums of money.

The report has prompted an investigation by the Department of Health into the practice of female foeticide in the UK.

Sex-selective abortions are illegal in Britain, and campaigners are calling for restrictions to help curb the practice, including withholding information on the sex of the baby until much later in the pregnancy.

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, a GP who sits on the House of Commons health select committee, said: “There should be a consultation on whether it is suitable to withhold information about gender during those early scans.

“It would be excessively draconian to say that a woman cannot know at all but the idea of postponing that information needs to be part of the discussion.”

The idea of sex-selective abortion is absolutely awful and utterly wrong; it is another form of discrimination which girls have to face before they are even born, but it should not be used as an excuse for the pro-life camp to call for further restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.

You can’t combat one form of gender discrimination with another.

Writing in the Huffington Post, the director of external affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Clare Murphy, said: ‘We need to think hard about where we go next with this.

‘Misogynist attitudes which value boys over girls must always be challenged… but problems arise for women when claims about sex-selective abortions are used to pave the way for restrictions on access to information about their pregnancies and abortion services.

‘You don’t tackle discrimination against women by placing greater restrictions on their reproductive choices.

‘The idea that women should be denied information about their pregnancy on the basis that they cannot be trusted with it is quite appalling.’

Murphy also challenges the findings of the study, saying that BPAS has found no evidence of gender imbalance in any community in the UK.

“The British Pregnancy Advisory Service provides a third of all abortions in the UK and it simply isn’t our experience that women from any community are coming into our clinics, anywhere in the UK, seeking to abort girls,” she said.

Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of the charity Karma Nirvana and a campaigner on forced marriages and honour violence against women, told the Independent: “There is absolutely no doubt that these terminations… are taking place within the South Asian population in Britain.

“I think almost any Asian woman you talk to would say she feels a pressure to have a male child. There will be many, many Asian women out there who are pregnant and who are thinking, ‘please, please let it be a boy’.

“If you have a daughter, these women will tell us, they feel they have let their husband or in-laws down. In those circumstances, women are seeking abortions if they can find out that the child is a girl.”

Female foeticide is already well-documented in India, where millions of girls are thought to have been lost to sex-selective abortions despite laws designed to stop the practice.

Making access to reproductive health services more difficult in the UK will only drive women abroad, or, worse, to underground for scans and abortions. It will not change the deep-rooted beliefs and attitudes that have brought us to this tragic point in the first place.

Of course we need to let everyone know that sex-selective abortions are unacceptable in the UK, but we also need to work to change mindsets that believe having a baby boy is better than having a girl, even if the reality is completely different.

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