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Sikh woman in Sydney pressured to undergo sex-selective abortions, says MP

A stock photo of a pregnant woman. Source: AAP

Amid heated debate about the abortion bill in New South Wales, a state MP has said that gender-selective abortions were happening in the state. Tanya Davies has claimed an Indian Sikh woman told her that she was pressured by her husband and in-laws to abort every time she was discovered to be carrying a female foetus.

A New South Wales Liberal MP says she was told by an “Indian Sikh” woman that she was pressured to abort every time it was found she was pregnant with a girl child.

Tanya Davies, former Minister for Women and Mental Health, said that a woman from Western Sydney came to her after hearing her speak in favour of amendments to ban sex-selection in the abortion Bill.

“Every time she was pregnant, her husband and parents in law pressured her to find out as soon as she could, what was the sex of the baby," she told SBS Punjabi.

“Her husband and parents in law pressured her to abort every time it was discovered that it was a female foetus," said Ms Davies.

Newborn Baby Feet

She said the woman refused to abort and her husband left the woman and their daughters after she gave birth to their fourth daughter.

NSW’s lower house passed the bill to decriminalise abortion but a final vote in the upper house has been pushed to the next month amid a strong opposition to changes to the law though it’s being debated this week.

Labor MP Penny Sharpe who introduced the legislation in the Legislative Council said “criminalising abortion does not stop abortion, it just makes it unsafe.”

“We have heard the stories of our friends, our mother, our grandmothers, our aunties and our children. We have heard stories of the past where women were harmed or died seeking illegal backyard abortions and we are determined to never go back to those days again.”

President of the Federation of Indian Associations in NSW, Dr Yadu Singh is concerned, if legalised, the abortion law could be "misused" for gender-selective abortions. 

"Coming from India, I know how gender-based abortions have skewed sex-ratio there, particularly in Punjab, Haryana and UP. 

"It's a cultural thing that most families prefer boys over girls and we don't want the same thing replicated here," Dr Singh told SBS Punjabi.

Dr Bawa Singh Jagdev from the National Sikh Council of Australia says the case mentioned by Ms Davies may be "just one-off". 

"What this woman faced is really sad and unfortunate but these things happen back in Punjab and other states in India. I haven't really come across any such case here in Sydney," he said. 

Mr Jagdev said he supported the proposed law to legalise abortion. 

"It's the woman's body, it's her choice and she should be allowed to make that decision," he said.

An amendment introduced by Ms Davies seeking to ban sex-selection in the abortion bill was voted down in favour of a 12-month review. She says she's hopeful it can be brought back in the upper house. 

A set of Queensland twins have been identified as just the second semi-identical twins in the world and the first to be discovered during pregnancy.
Picture Alliance

In an exclusive investigation by SBS in 2015, it was found that the proportion of boys was particularly high compared to girls in case of Indian and Chinese-born parents in Australia.

The data showed Australia's overall average ratio was within the standard range - with 105.7 boys born for every 100 girls.

However, for India-born parents, an average of 108.2 boys were born for every 100 girls, and for China-born parents, 109.5 boys were born, on average, for every 100 girls.

Melbourne GP Dr Gurdeep Aurora told SBS at the time that he had seen patients who expressed a desire to have sons.

"They were saying that if it was going to be a daughter then they would like to have it terminated. The second case the couple had three girls and they were very keen to find out the sex of the foetus because they did not want to have the fourth child as a daughter,” he said.

Ban on sex-determination and abortions in India

Despite economic progress, India’s struggled to maintain gender equality at birth.

In the 2011 census, out of the total 543 districts of the country, 14 were revealed to have fewer than 800 females per 1000 males and 118 districts have fewer than 900 females per 1000 males in 0-6 years age group.

The country had already banned pre-natal sex determination and sex-selective abortions in 1996 in order to ameliorate gender imbalance.

Under the Indian law, causing an abortion, even by the pregnant woman herself, is a criminal offence which carries a jail term of up to three years. The law allows abortions only in case of pregnancies under 12 weeks which involve a risk to the life of the woman or that the child would be born with physical or mental abnormalities.

While the strict legal provisions have helped in arresting the further decline of male-female ratio in India, instances of people desperate for a son accessing illegal tests and abortions continue to be reported.  

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