Campaigners are calling for the government to acknowledge the “significant number of women having sex selective abortions” after new figures reveal Indian women in the UK may be terminating unborn daughters.
However a Department of Health (DoH) report said there were no “substantiated concerns” of terminations being carried out on the grounds of gender.
Findings from the new study revealed that 110 males were born for every 100 girls to Indian women having their third child between 2008 to 2012 in England and Wales. The figure has alarmed campaigners because the general consensus is that a sex ratio of around 105 male births to 100 female ones is normal.
Among Indian mothers, the male to female ratio was in the normal range for their first and second children, but was skewed when it came to the third born.
The Assessment of termination of pregnancy on grounds of the sex of the foetus study, published by the DoH last month, also revealed that 98 per cent of Bangladeshi and British Asian women who had a termination last year underwent the procedure under 17 weeks.
Campaigners have raised concerns about the safety of women carrying girls because they were at risk of being assaulted by family members due to cultural beliefs that sons are more desirable than daughters.
Rani Bilkhu, who founded the NGO Jeena International, which provided evidence of abortions taking place in the Asian community based on the sex of the foetus to the DoH, said a “significant” number of women in Britain were at risk of domestic violence or even death because they were carrying a girl.
She told Eastern Eye that the number of women aborting their unborn daughters was much higher than records indicated because many south Asians travelled to India for the procedure.
Bilkhu explained that would-be-mothers were also ordering blood tests online which determine the sex of an unborn baby when a woman is just seven weeks pregnant.
She is calling on the government to amend its abortion act and explicitly outline that it is illegal to have an abortion based on the gender of the foetus.
“The most dangerous thing that has happened is the blood test you can have – you go online, order it and send off a blood sample.
“If you are going to India or you are doing it privately by taking a pill to abort, those women are going to be missed – they won’t be on the statistical data, and the figures could be much higher,” she told Eastern Eye.
According the the DoH figures, Pakistani and Indian women were most likely to have an abortion under seven weeks in England and Wales in 2014. The report also showed that 46 per cent of Pakistani women who aborted a baby last year had the termination before the foetus was two months old.
Among Indian women that figure was 44 per cent in the first two months of pregnancy.
Asian women were the second highest ethnic group after Chinese females to have a termination under 12 weeks, with 91 per cent of Indians and Bangladeshis ending a pregnancy within three months.
In India, female foeticide as it is known, has been illegal since the early 1980s.
It is also illegal to offer scans to find out the sex of a baby, but the law is regularly flouted.
Bilkhu told Eastern Eye that Asian women were under pressure to have boys as they are considered to have a higher status than girls and also because they carry on the family name.
In the UK, parents can find out whether they are having a girl or boy during the second scan, which is carried out between 18 and 21 weeks of pregnancy.
“The government needs to acknowledge there are a significant number of women having sex selective abortions,” Bhilku said.
“If we look back 15 years when we were talking about forced marriage, a lot of people didn’t think forced marriage existed. The same can be said for sex-selective abortion.”
One woman referred to Jeena International was born in Pakistan and was in the UK as a dependent spouse of a European Union national.
She fell pregnant soon after the birth of her first child and a routine ultrasound scan revealed it was a girl.
The woman said during the drive back, there was pin-drop silence in the car. When they arrived home, she started to prepare the evening meal while trying to calm her daughter who was crying, as she knew her husband was angry because she was expecting a second girl.
Bhilku said the woman remembers him repeatedly punching and kicking her in the stomach before she passed out. When she regained consciousness, her husband had walked out and a couple of months later, sent her divorce papers.
“Women feel the expectation to have a son. There is a significant number of people being abused or even left in hospitals where the mother-in-law and family don’t want to go and see her because she has had a second or third child.
“These are real stories… Are you telling me those stories from real women aren’t significant enough for the government to say we need to start looking at this?” she asked.
“Sometimes, it’s imposed by the community, or self-imposed. Sometimes if the woman knows it is the second or third child, her own marriage might be in jeopardy. Some people have been divorced, they could be at risk of being killed. Being pregnant is meant to be the most wonderful experience, but it’s overtaken by mists of grey.
“We want to clarify the abortion act – we want to add one line saying it is illegal to abort on the basis of gender.”
The DoH study, published on August 27, states: “The issue of gender abortions is of worldwide concern.”
However, it adds, “We found no substantiated concerns of gender abortions occurring in England, Wales and Scotland.”
The DoH called on several organisations, including Jeena International, to submit evidence that gender abortions were taking place.
The report added: “From this information, it appears that some of these women sought a gender-related abortion. The information about the other women shows other pressures and serious impact on their lives following them giving birth to or being pregnant with girls. The details provided are very limited and we plan to do to some further work with Jeena International to explore whether any further information is available.
“The Society of Radiographers highlighted concerns raised by their members about the pressure parents are subjecting them to during scans if the foetal sex cannot be immediately identified. They have undertaken a more general survey which included questions on this issue, the results of which are to be published shortly. However, results from this survey indicate it seems to be more generally about the parent’s desire to know whether the baby is a boy or a girl rather than specific evidence of gender abortions.”
Abortion can be carried out any time up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but there are some excep-tions. If the mother’s life is at risk, or if the child is at risk of being born with a severe physical or mental disability, an abortion may be performed after 24 weeks.
Bilkhu, who sits on a violence against women and girls steering group, is in the process of setting up an All Party Parliamentary Group focusing on equality before and after birth.
She said: “It’s not just about women being manipulated and coerced to have abortions. Some are being manipulated but they are choosing not to [abort] and therefore there is domestic violence, but also when girls are born, there is a substantial abuse within those households.
“We need to make sure there are positive messages going out to communities so they feel they cannot abort on the basis of gender. The issue is why are we not valuing girls whether they are born or not.”
In February, MPs rejected a bid to clarify in law that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal in the UK.
A DoH spokesperson said: “Our analysis found no substantiated evidence of gender selective abortions taking place in Britain, but we will continue to monitor the data closely and examine any other evidence that comes to light.
“Abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal – and we have made this very clear, including in the official guidance the Department issues.”