LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The British government will investigate data used in a report by the Independent newspaper that members of some immigrant communities in Britain are having illegal abortions of female foetuses.
The British newspaper analysed data from the 2011 census, broken down by country of birth of both father and mother, and concluded that the number of sex-selective terminations had significantly changed the sex ratio in some communities in England and Wales in favour of boys.
The newspaper said that sex-selective abortion, which is illegal in the UK but is widely practised in some countries like India and China, was now so ‘prevalent’ in some parts of the UK that it may have reduced the female population by between 1,400 and 4,700, based on 2011 census data.
The Independent said on Thursday that the Department of Health had requested details of the analysis – carried out by statisticians at London’s Imperial College - of data provided to the newspaper by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The paper said it had agreed to “full disclosure of all the relevant data.”
“We can confirm that officials have been in touch with Imperial College,” a Department of Health spokesman told the paper. “We continue to monitor birth ratios on a yearly basis and will consider any new studies as they are published.”
The natural gender ratio at birth is 1.05, which means that there are about 105 boys born for every 100 girls. This is nature’s way of regulating the gender balance, as women generally live longer than men. If nature takes its course, the sex of the second-born child should not be affected by the gender of the first-born, the paper reported.
Analysts believe that when the ratio shifts significantly, going above 1.08 (108 boys for every 100 girls), other factors could be causing the imbalance, the Independent said.
The Independent’s analysis used the census data to see whether having a daughter as the first born child raised a family’s probability of having a boy as a second child. A heavily imbalanced ratio – where the second child was almost always male – was found in families where the mother was born in Pakistan or Afghanistan, with some evidence that this was also the case for mothers born in Bangladesh.
Experts surveyed by the Independent pointed to two possible explanations for this: sex-selective abortions or women carrying on having children until the birth of a son.
“The only readily available explanation that is consistent with a statistically significant gender shift of the sort observed in the census data is gender-selective abortion,” Christoforos Anagnostopoulos, a lecturer in statistics at Imperial College London, told the Independent.
“In the absence of a better theory, these findings can be interpreted as evidence that gender-selective abortion is taking place.”
The findings have prompted calls for the British government to consider legislation barring parents from knowing the child’s gender after early ultrasound scans, to prevent gender-selective abortions.
Last year, a government investigation into the matter found no evidence that women from particular ethnic communities were having sex-selective abortions.
“There should be a consultation on whether it is suitable to withhold information about gender during those early scans. It would be excessively draconian to say that a woman cannot know at all, but the idea of postponing that information needs to be part of the discussion,” Sarah Wollaston, a member of the House of Commons health committee, told the Independent.
“We also need to hear a very, very clear voice from within the communities affected by this problem that it is totally unacceptable. Until people acknowledge that there is a problem you will not change anything,” she added.