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India’s doctors using illegal sex-selection in own families

The Washington Post

Some doctors’ families in India are having more sons than daughters, a new study in the U.S. journal Demography claims, implying that they, too, may be using illegal sex-selective practices that are thought to be widespread in the country.

Female feticide among not only poorer and uneducated families but also India’s burgeoning urban middle class has contributed to the nation’s skewed sex ratio, researchers say. In the past decade, the number of girls younger than 6 fell from 927 for every 1,000 boys to 914, national census data for 2001 and 2011 show.

In 1996, the government banned the use of ultrasounds to determine the sex of an unborn child unless a medical emergency requires such knowledge. But the new study, titled “Skewed Sex Ratios in India: Physician, Heal Thyself,” suggests that doctors may be accessing the technology to prevent the births of girls in their own families.

“The heavily skewed sex ratios in the families of physicians are indicative of a deeply rooted social malady that could pose a critical challenge in correcting the sex ratios in India,” the report says.

The authors analyzed data that doctors had provided about their families for alumni magazine special issues published by a medical school in the city of Nagpur. The doctors had studied at the school between 1980 and 1985. The study showed that in the 946 families whose data was examined, the female-to-male ratio was 907 to 1,000, far below the national average.

Even more telling, among the doctor-headed families with two children in which the first was female, the average female-to-male ratio for the second child plunged to 519, the report said.

“These numbers cannot be possible without any intervention,” said Archana B. Patel, the study’s lead author and head of the pediatrics department at Nagpur’s Indira Gandhi Government Medical College. “It came as a huge surprise, because doctors are supposed to be the implementers of the law that bans prenatal sex determination,” he said. “We are not saying all the doctors we analyzed intervened. But even if you have a small proportion of them doing it, that is enough to skew the sex ratio.”

If the larger nationwide trends on physicians’ behavior concur with the survey’s results, the authors of the study concluded that “we may have uncovered one of the several possible mechanisms contributing to the failure of the implementation of the law.”