India’s Missing Girls

Echidne has a terrific post about India and China’s sex ratios. In both countries, there is rampant sex-selective abortion and infanticide, leading to sex ratios of 882 and 832 girls to 1,000 boys respectively. Echidne uncharacteristically takes the snarky road here, so let me try and be a more policy-oriented wonk.

1. Abortion restrictions don’t work here. China already forbids doctors to tell women the sex of their babies before birth. On the contrary, freer abortion turns this into a legitimate if decidedly sexist choice rather than murder.

2. Conversely, other governmental restrictions on fertility exacerbate the problem. In India, the sex ratio is largely a product of dowries, which make girls a financial burden on poor families. In China there’s no such thing; the problem stems mostly from the one-child policy, since families prefer having at least one boy to continue the lineage. Nor does the relaxation that families are permitted a second child if the first is female help much, since it still creates potentially a 2-to-1 gender ratio.

3. India’s ban on dowries is only helping a little bit. In the villages, a lot of progressive Indian laws are being routinely flouted. Officially, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste; in practice, the status of low-caste Indian villagers is about the same as this of black Alabamans in 1927.

4. Urbanization won’t help much. In Delhi there are 827 girls per 1,000 boys, despite having an above average level of income. Urbanization has done a lot to help women and low-caste people, but is entirely skipping the practice of sex-selective abortion, which is only getting worse due to increasingly expensive dowries.

5. Enforcing existing laws will help, but can only go so far. India doesn’t have an especially stable government, and in the long run will have an even less stable one as a consequence of the immense surplus of males. Cracking down on dowries is too politically unpalatable.

6. Baby steps like the one that the government is trying to promote, namely encouraging parents to abandon girls in local hospitals instead of abort or kill them, are the most secure. Unfortunately, they’re also the slowest, and problems of an oversupply of men can become very urgent. All hell broke loose in China in the 19th century in precisely those areas with lopsided sex ratios.

7. Exporting people is theoretically possible, but requires Western countries to forego their racism enough as to admit 2 million people every year – the 1 million missing women plus 1 million men to compensate. At a time when Europe is trying to return to its medieval roots and the United States lets in something like 300,000 legal immigrants per year, it’s not realistic for the Indian government to bank on that. It’s the best the West can do, but it’s probably even more politically difficult than to enforce anti-dowry laws in India in the first place.

12 Responses to India’s Missing Girls

  1. Robin says:

    It may be worth looking at places in India and China with countertrends. The state of Kerala (pop. 32 million) has a sex ratio of about 1,060 females per 1,000 males.

  2. muppt says:

    let’s ship our gay people to China, that’ll tip the balance.

  3. SLC says:

    Re muppt

    Better yet, ship all Canadians to China. Obviously, the situation in India and China is due to the machinations of the International Zionist Conspiracy.

  4. Ralph says:

    Some situations are not amenable to policy-based solutions. That has to be accepted at the outset.

    On the other hand, I like the idea of providing anonymous drop-off locations (hospitals and so forth), and I’d be curious to find out whether many people would use them. I imagine there would be a shame factor, so the drop-off should be kept very private, somehow.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Yeah, that’s also true. That’s why I favor the baby steps: they’re not going to solve the problem, as no policy can in a reasonable timeframe, but at least they acknowledge that it’s impossible to solve the problem quickly and instead try to ameliorate it.

  6. Axel says:

    India, China and… East Germany which has a sex ratio of 100 men to 86.5 women in the age of 18 to 29 today and possibly a ratio of 2 to1 in six to seven years…

  7. ivan says:

    “Nor does the relaxation that families are permitted a second child if the first is female help much, since it still creates potentially a 2-to-1 gender ratio.”

    Not so. As long as there is no selective abortion of females, the gender ratio will be 1-to-1 in theory. It doesn’t matter at all which people are allowed to have additional children. In the above scenario, half of all families have a single son, a quarter have a son and a daughter, and a quarter have two daughters. That’s still a 1-to-1 ratio overall.

    The obvious extension of this is to let each family have children until the first son is born, which will both preserve a 1-to-1 ratio and ensure that each family has a son if they want one.

  8. Talia Carner says:

    Last week (March 5, 2007) I presented at the UN the subject of gendercide–singling out baby girls for death.

    China and India are the only countries in the world that show highly skewed boy-girl imbalance beyond the 105:100 ratio in all developing and industrial nations.

    Paradoxically, the scarcity of marriageble women–recorded in the 2000 China census as 41 million!–does not raise their value. Rather, it has increased sexual violence against women in the form of rape, kidnapping, trafficking, sexual slavery and forced marriages of both women and girls.

    The first right of all human rights is the right to live. Sex-selection abortions are often performed late in gestation, followed by outright infanticide upon birth and abandonment of girls.

    For more information bout missing girls, foreign adoptions, infanticide, orphanages and killing of children, please check my website at

    With the upcoming 2008 Olympics in Beijing, let’s raise our collective indignation and turn the spotlight on this shameful practice.

    Talia Carner
    Author, CHINA DOLL

  9. Sunanth says:

    Feminists indulge in legal terrorsim with 498a in India.

    Bride Burning and dowry harassment is a big hoax.

    Indian women drive 22000 men to suicide and not a single female criminal is punished.

  10. Sunanth says:

    India’s sex ratio is better than Swedens and Italy’s.

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