Reporters on the Job

Gender Imbalance: Staff writer Scott Baldauf says that a trip to any orphanage in India offers quick evidence of a national preference for boy children. Prenatal selection has been banned for more than 10 years, but a new study by The Lancet, a British medical journal, states that the practice is thriving, resulting in the abortion of 5 million fetuses since the ban went into effect in 1994.

"I have been to a number of orphanages, and the girls out-represent the boys by factors of 20," says Scott. "Girls are much harder to place. The boys in orphanages tend to be those with severe health problems. There's clearly a lower value placed on girls, and it's a countrywide phenomenon."

Scott says many people are reluctant to ascribe the practice to cultural reasons, pointing instead to such factors as socioeconomic pressures. But, he notes, the practice "gets worse when one selects out those parents who have a girl as their only child," says Scott. "The skewing toward boys is even more dramatic in that category."

One problem, Scott notes, is the lack of effective advocates against prenatal selection. "While you have plenty of groups that bemoan the disappearance of girl children, few are doing much to counter it."

Indeed, a number of constituencies have a stake in supporting feticide. Mobile abortion units, which became illegal after the ban, actually picked up speed as a result. "They're very organized," says Scott. "They will announce when they'll arrive, what town, what street corner. And families show up. How do they know? They get the information through a local doctor or social worker. The network is amazing."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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