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Millions of missing female births predicted in India in next decade

More boys than girls are born in India each year

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An estimated 6.8 million fewer female births could be recorded in India between 2017 and 2030 than would be expected without practices such as sex-selective abortion.

India’s sex ratio at birth – the ratio of male to female births – has been imbalanced since the 1970s, largely driven by a rise in families choosing to abort female fetuses with the goal of having sons instead.

Fengqing Chao at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, and her colleagues wanted to investigate what the impact on India’s population might be if this trend continues.

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Chao and her team modelled the sex ratio at birth in 29 Indian states and territories, which encompass more than 98 per cent of the country’s population. They looked at birth data as well as national survey data on people’s preferences to have a son or daughter.

The model predicted that there would be 6.8 million missing female births across India between 2017 and 2030, compared with what would be expected without practices such as sex-selective abortion. The prediction started with 2017 as this is the year after the most recent birth data.

India’s missing female births over the next 10 years could have a significant impact on the global sex ratio, since the UN predicts that India will overtake China to become the world’s most populous country in that time period.

The researchers found that a preference towards having sons was strongest in the north of India, with their model projecting that the highest deficits in female births would occur in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Identifying regions with the strongest predicted biases in sex ratio at birth could help minimise the future abortion of female fetuses, for instance by enabling more precise targeting of policies or campaigns aimed at prevention, says Chao.

Journal reference: PLOS ONE , DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0236673

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