India's female population is dwindling at an alarming rate

Where have all the girls gone?

Where have all the girls gone?

Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to girls, China gets the bad rap. But it’s not the only country with an overwhelming preference for boys. The 2011 Indian census revealed that there are 7.1 million fewer girls than boys aged under seven. The sex ratio in that age group is now 914 girls to 1,000 boys, the lowest since records began in 1961. And a study released last week concluded the growing gender imbalance is a result of selective abortion of female fetuses.

The study found that selective abortion of Indian girls, especially for pregnancies after a first-born girl, has increased substantially over the past 10 years. It used to be that the phenomenon was restricted to a few northern Indian states, but it is now common throughout India’s population. Prabhat Jha, a University of Toronto professor and author of the study, says the abortions are consistent with the country’s economic development: as fertility drops and a preference for sons continues, families with the means to select the gender of their child will do so. Jha says the repercussions of the skewed ratio are glaring. “In the hardest hit places of India, they’re importing brides,” he says. “There just aren’t enough women.”

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