Missing girls in India: infanticide, feticide and made-to-order pregnancies? Insights from hospital-based sex-ratio-at-birth over the last century

PLoS One. 2008 May 21;3(5):e2224. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002224.


Background: There are 44 million missing women in India. Gender bias; neglect of girls, infanticides and feticides are responsible. The sex ratio at birth can be used to examine the influence of antenatal sex selection on the sex ratio.

Materials and methods: Records from 321,991 deliveries at one hospital over 11 decades were utilized. The middle year in each decade was taken as representative of the decade. Data from 33,524 deliveries were then analyzed. Data for each decade was combined with that of previous decades and compared to the data of subsequent decades to look for any change in the trend. Sex ratio in the second children against sex of the first child was studied separately.

Results: The mean sex ratio for the 110 years examined was 910 girls to 1000 boys (95% CI; 891 to 930). The sex ratio dropped significantly from 935 (CI: 905 to 967) before 1979, to 892 (CI: 868 to 918) after 1980 (P = 0.04). The sex ratio in the second child was significantly lower if the first child was a girl [716 (CI: 672 to 762] (P<0.001). On the other hand, there was an excess of girls born to mothers whose first child was boy [1140 girls per 1000 boys (CI: 1072 to 1212 P<0.001)].

Conclusions: The sex ratio fell significantly after 1980 when ultra sound machines for antenatal sex determination became available. The sex ratio in second children if the first was a girl was even lower. Sex selective abortions after antenatal sex determination are thus implicated. However data on second children especially the excess of girls born to mothers who have a previous boy seen in the decade before the advent of antenatal ultra sound machines, suggests that other means of sex selection are also used.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infanticide*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex Ratio*