National Catholic Register


Where Have All the Girls Gone?

One of the most shocking global trends I have encountered in travels to more than 45 countries on all continents in the past five years is the practice of gendercide.


April 22-28, 2007 Issue | Posted 4/17/07 at 10:00 AM


One of the most shocking global trends I have encountered in travels to more than 45 countries on all continents in the past five years is the practice of gendercide.

This massive “disappearance” of girls in the last few decades is an underreported international scandal. Undisputed evidence exists that more than 100 million women have been killed for the “crime” of being female since the 1970s and 1980s, and the problem is growing worse.

Where are the protests and outrage at the United Nations and among organizations that identify themselves as defending or representing women?

There is certainly no outcry in proportion to the worldwide catastrophe taking place. More typical is the U.N. secretary general’s global study of violence against children, released in October 2006, which makes no mention whatsoever of abortion.

Abortion, in fact, is the key to the unprecedented and disproportionate fall in female births in the last few decades. Many consider it taboo to put in place any measures that would go counter to their ideal of an unfettered “right to abortion.”

It is hard not to conclude that the greatest instance of deadly discrimination against women in recorded history is being virtually ignored by radical feminists and others because they rank the freedom to abort higher than the right to life of girls who are selectively aborted. A staff working paper for the President’s Council on Bioethics points out the cruel irony of pro-abortion feminists refusing to restrict the “right” to abort girls because of son preference.

“The abortion right, which was grounded in the principle of equality for women, could now be used, rightly or wrongly, as a pretext for aborting female fetuses,” says the paper. “And the slogan of pro-choice advocates of ‘every child a wanted child’ could now be invoked, again rightly or wrongly, to defend the abortion of unwanted female fetuses.”

Such positions are contributing to an escalating international crisis.

It is a curious biological fact that a slightly higher percentage of boys at birth appears to be a natural phenomenon. Demographers noticed early on that, with variations due to ethnicity, the normal ratio of boys to girls is in the range of 103-106 males for every 100 females at birth. Sex ratios at birth everywhere were remarkably stable until the advent of widely available sex detection technology in the 1970s. Amniocentesis genetic tests and later ultrasound machines opened a Pandora’s Box.

Professor Jerome Lejeune, the pro-life geneticist who developed the amniocentesis test, proved prophetic when he predicted that, when given a choice, people would overwhelmingly opt for a boy. He realized the catastrophic cultural and societal ramifications that would result if sex selection became prevalent.

Unfortunately, after only 30 years since its easy availability, knowledge of the unborn child’s sex, especially when combined with easy recourse to abortion and historic son preference in many cultures, we now are experiencing historically unprecedented devastation on female birth rates.

Many readers will be aware that systematic and deadly discrimination against unborn baby girls is “a problem in China.” The modern and growing Chinese sex imbalance was one of the first gendercide problems discussed in many news reports and in the scientific literature. Statistics such as a projected 70 million more boys than girls in China certainly make for striking headlines in the press.

Census figures showing radically skewed birthrates as high as 130 or 135 boys for every 100 girls in the Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Hainan are world records. This only became possible after the widespread practice of using ultrasound technology to establish the sex of the child and subsequent abortions to eliminate unwanted girls. Undoubtedly, the infamous One-Child Policy for population control, enforced by the communist government of China, has also served to aggravate the crisis.

Despite government acknowledgements of the problem, as recently as June 2006 the Chinese National People’s Congress defeated a measure to criminalize sex-selection abortion, and family planning officials were reduced to claiming they will fight the practice despite this legislative setback. Overwhelming social bias for male offspring, draconian population control restrictions on the number of children allowed, widely available sex-determination technology and unrestricted abortion have made China the poster child of gendercide, but many fail to appreciate the fact that the problem, with varying levels of severity, exists around the world.

Sex-control abortion in India has also started to receive widespread publicity. The Lancet, Britain’s leading medical journal, published a study concluding that as many as 10 million girls were selectively aborted in India over the last 20 years. I recall seeing firsthand this bias against girl children during my trip to India in late 2004.

One aggravating cultural problem in India is the financial burden of providing a marriage dowry for daughters.

In the 1990s, those who sold sex-detection tests advertised on thousands of billboards around the country; “Pay 500 rupees [$14] now rather than five lakhs [500,000 rupees or $14,000] later.” The passage of the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1994 had no discernible impact on the selective abortion of girls in India, and it is only in recent years that a significant number of clinics and doctors have faced fines or legal punishment for revealing the sex of the unborn child to parents.

One hero in this fight is Baljit Singh Dahiya of Haryana, India. He heads a task force that employs pregnant women to test the compliance of the numerous ultrasound centers with the anti-sex selection law and prosecutes offenders.

Something that came as a shock to India was the statistical evidence that aborting girls is much more frequent in cities and among wealthy and highly educated social groups than in backward rural areas.

One common reason given for aborting girls in India, China and other Asian nations with low fertility due to population control, is the traditional folk religion teaching that only a son can perform the funerary rites for his parents and ancestors.

These beliefs cut across social classes, but data from the 2001 Indian census revealed that only 85 girls were born for every 100 boys in the capital Delhi, down from 90.4 girls for every 100 boys in 1991 and far worse than the already low national average of 92.7 girls to 100 boys. This pattern of the educated and financially advantaged classes practicing sex-control abortion in greater numbers holds true for China and other nations, as well.

Several other Asian countries follow this pattern of pre-natal gendercide, but not all. Taiwan and South Korea also have highly skewed sex ratios at birth that favor boys. At an international symposium on sex preference in Seoul, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Judith Banister recorded key findings for the U.S. Census Bureau. She noted that “public concern about the ‘missing girl’ problem in Asia focuses on the plight of the men who will be unable to find brides 20 years hence. This focus itself is male-oriented and reflects high valuation of males and disregard of the needs of females. Meanwhile, the fate of the abandoned, aborted, murdered or maltreated girls is barely seen as a problem.” Some Asian countries like Japan and Indonesia have a normal ratio of boys to girls, but they are exceptions in their region.

Sex control before birth is definitely not confined to the Far East. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have reached the dizzying heights of between 115-120 boys for every 100 girls at birth.

There are some frightening scenarios concerning the future if sex control against women in China, which continues to produce 2 million more men than women a year. The authors of Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population (“bare branches” is a Chinese term for men who cannot find wives) come to the conclusion that military adventurism and internal violence are predictable outcomes for societies with disproportionate numbers of unmarried young men.

These and other ominous outcomes of sex selection, which were also foreseen by Dr. Lejeune, are based on the past and present history of China and other countries where sex ratios remain heavily tilted towards men. This is one more illustration of the truism that when man plays God with the laws of nature, he invariably causes disasters.

In the literature discussing the implications of gendercide, the most astonishing conclusions are those that express a kind of perverse pleasure that the growing global scarcity of women will make them more “valuable” or appreciated as a group. It is absurd to find consolation in the hope that mass murder could have the happy result of increasing the social status of the victims.

In any case, in societies where killing females before birth has become most acceptable, young women are treated even less humanely as they become fewer. The current lack of females in some countries has in fact led to increased trafficking of women for sale as sex slaves and not to an increase in their social prestige.

Abortion is morally corrosive. The acceptance of killing innocent unborn children saps the moral strength of many who would be expected to defend vigorously girls and women from sex-selection abortion.

Redress for the incredible damage done to the fabric of society by sex control and gendercide will have to come from those who are principled enough to stand for the human rights of every person from the moment of conception to their natural death.

The pro-life movement must point out the hypocrisy of those who concern themselves with only a narrow range of politically correct human rights. Our task is to nurture the flame of respect for human dignity as the culture of death continues its multifaceted assault on women and attempts to snuff out the future of humanity.

Protecting human life in its earliest moments is undoubtedly the human rights and social challenge of our age. As Dr. Lejeune said, “What is at stake is not merely the life of the baby present here and now, but rather the life of the soul of our civilization.”

Joseph Meaney is director of

international coordination for

Human Life International.