Could gender-selective abortions be happening in Australia?

Exclusive: An SBS investigation has found higher numbers of boys than girls being born in some ethnic communities, raising questions about sex selection in Australia.


"It's a girl" is unwelcome news in some cultures.

The United Nations suggests gender-selective abortion (the practice of aborting unwanted females) has skewed the .

A social media campaign, promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year, aimed to tackle the issue, and caused #selfiewithdaughter to trend in India.

There are concerns women in some communities in Australia may also face pressure to have sons.

Diya* told SBS radio she resisted finding out the gender of her unborn baby, fearing her family would pressure her to have an abortion.

"They kept forcing me so bad. 'Find out the sex, find out the sex!' If it didn't matter to them they wouldn't have forced me that much,” she said.

SBS commissioned data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in a bid to find out if gender-selective abortions are happening here.

United Nations figures say the standard biological level of sex ratio at birth ranges from 102-to-106 boys for every 100 girls born.

When there are many more boys born than girls, the UN says it suggests sex selection is taking place.

The ABS data looks at all registered births in Australia between 2003 – 2013. It also lists the birth country of both parents.

The data shows Australia's overall average ratio is 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.

The ABS says the numbers of Australians born between 2003-2013, who have Indian or Chinese parents, is statistically significant.

"There has to be some form of pre-natal sex selection taking place. In my opinion the most plausible explanation is that there is sex-selective abortion occurring," said Macquarie University Demographer Dr Nick Parr.

One of the authors of the 2012 UNFPA report on sex selection in Asia, demographer Dr Christophe Guilmoto agrees that sex-selective abortions seem to be occurring in Australia.

"There has to be some form of pre-natal sex selection taking place. In my opinion the most plausible explanation is that there is sex-selective abortion occurring."
“I think there is no other explanation. Once we have run statistical test on this data and they show that the gap between the sex ratio at birth among these two communities and the rest of the population is not random, then we know there is something. There are very few ways to influence the sex of your child so the most common is to resort to sex selective abortion," he said.

Melbourne GP Dr Gurdeep Aurora says he has 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.

Sydney Doctor Seng Chau doesn't believe his patients are aborting unwanted females.

"There are certainly parents who would say 'Look, I already have two girls. I am really under pressure to have boys. How can I do that? Can I do things?' But whether that would actually translate to people taking an act of abortion for gender selection, my personal experience is that they are not getting that far,” he said.

Monash University Medical Anthropologist Dr Andrea Whittaker believes it’s unlikely there are biological or other reasons for the difference in ratio.

"They're unlikely to be causing major shifts, which those numbers would suggest. The fact that these figures are over a long period of time, it would suggest that there's probably some sex-selection going on,” she said.

The issue has prompted Australian Independent Senator John Madigan to introduce new legislation banning Medicare funding for abortions procured on the basis of gender selection.

"Whether it's one abortion procured on the basis on the gender of the child or 100, it is unacceptable. And the legislation that I have before the parliament sends the message that we don't, as a country, support this in any way, shape or form. If we don't do anything, we are complicit."

Doctor Tereza Hendl, Macquarie University expert in the ethical aspects of selecting a child's gender, has questioned how that would work in practice.

"It's unenforceable because you have no way of knowing a woman's reasons for abortions. And also, of course, this kind of law could lead to discrimination of particular kinds of women."

The United Nations estimates more than 100 million girls are “missing” - having never been born.

They've called for programs which empower women, and celebrate daughters.

-Report produced by SBS Radio’s Pallavi Jain, with assistance from Nila Liu and Brianna Roberts.

WATCH: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a social media campaign this year to tackle female foeticide.


5 min read
Published 17 August 2015 at 2:26pm
Source: SBS