Prenatal selection for sons, neglect of care for daughters: 150 million “missing women” in 2035

The United Nations considers sex selection of babies before birth to be a harmful practice along with child marriage and female genital mutilation. Prenatal sex selection is usually done through an abortion after an ultrasound reveals the sex of the fetus. A report just released by the United Nations Population Fund states: “The preference for sons over daughters may be so pronounced in some societies that couples will go to great lengths to avoid giving birth to a daughter or will not look after the health and welfare of a daughter they already have for the benefit of their son. The bias in favor of male children is “a symptom of entrenched gender inequality, which harms entire societies”, observe the authors. Previous research estimated that there were 45 million “missing” female births between 1970 and 2017 due to prenatal sex selection. More than 95% of these missing births took place in China or India.

A new modeling study by the same group of scientists now predicts that in 12 countries known to practice prenatal sex selection at birth, there will be 4.7 million additional missing female births by 2030.

Past trends suggested that the unequal sex ratio at birth, i.e. the higher ratio between males and females, would decline in countries with large populations, such as China and India, in the years future. However, the authors indicate that by 2100, even if the excess male births are projected to decline over the next 20 years, the total deficit of female births could be 5.7 million.

The most pessimistic scenario

In the worst case, the shortfall in female births could reach 22 million by the end of the century, an estimate that includes 17 other countries at risk of developing a bias in the sex ratio at birth. “Although the sex ratio at birth is expected to decrease in some countries, we also propose a more extreme scenario of an increase in the sex ratio in other countries, such as Pakistan and Nigeria,” said the Dr. Chao, co-author of this study. Dr Chao developed the forecasting models with scientists from the United Nations Population Division, New York, the National University of Singapore, the Center for Human Sciences, New Delhi, and the University of Mass. Amherst.

They based their projections on a database that includes 3.26 billion birth records from 204 countries. The researchers warn that the trends they have identified will lead to a preponderance of men in more than a third of the world’s population, with unknown social and economic consequences. Their study is published in the BMJ Global Health.

The “missing women”: a future disaster in countries that practice selection

The authors note that the increase in the sex ratio at birth, as well as the excess mortality of girls, gave rise to the concept of “missing women”, when a population has a preponderance of men. They write that this will lead to demographic problems, such as a large number of young men unable to find wives.

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Further, they continue, “Fewer females than expected in a population could result in high levels of antisocial behavior and violence, and could ultimately affect long-term stability and sustainable social development. The authors conclude that their findings underscore the need to monitor sex ratios at birth in societies that favor sons over daughters. “A broader goal concerns the need to influence gender norms, which are at the heart of harmful practices such as prenatal sex selection. This requires broader legal frameworks to ensure gender equality,” they write. The researchers note that their predictions are based on several assumptions, including estimates of baseline sex ratios at birth and the number of sex-selective abortions.

The excess mortality among girls due to negligence and lack of care accentuates the phenomenon

There is evidence that some societies neglect female offspring in a way that results in excess mortality among girls, compared to boys. In 2015, for example, a study found that the total number of missing women (a figure that incorporates excess mortality) has increased steadily over the past decades, reaching 126 million in 2010. This figure is expected to reach 150 million in 2035.

Dr. John Bongaarts, vice president and senior researcher at the Population Council of New York, who co-authored the study, said the future number of women missing due to excess mortality is likely to be much higher than the number of births. missing women. Despite this, he added, the new analysis published in the BMJ Global Health predicts a higher number of missing births than his own study. Both studies highlight the need for gender equality and strong policies based on follow-up awareness campaigns to tackle gender bias.



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How Many More Missing Women? Excess Female Mortality and Prenatal Sex Selection, 1970–2050

Projecting sex imbalances at birth at global, regional and national levels from 2021 to 2100: scenario-based Bayesian probabilistic projections of the sex ratio at birth and missing female births based on 3.26 billion birth records


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