Gender-biased sex selection in India: a review of the situation and interventions to counter the practice


This review, focused on India, is part of a programme of work supported by UKAid in four South Asian countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan) to better understand how best to respond to adverse sex ratios at birth in South Asia. The programme’s first aim is to synthesise at country level, what is known about levels, trends and correlates of unbalanced sex ratios at birth as well as programmes and initiatives with potential to reverse the trend. The second is to build on the insights of the first, and through primary research to probe the perspectives of stakeholders about such programmes and initiatives in selected settings, thereby assessing the extent to which a programme or initiative is promising and may be scaleable.

In preparing this report, we have reviewed published and unpublished, qualitative and quantitative studies on the situation in India since the 1990s, when the phenomenon of adverse sex ratios at birth was first highlighted, as well as programme documents describing efforts that address gender-biased sex selection. Documents have been perused that cover two broad areas. First, we reviewed studies that discuss sex ratios at birth among children and of the population, as appropriate, and the factors underlying skewed sex ratios. Second, we perused interventions and/or programmatic and policy-related initiatives addressing gender-biased sex selection that have been undertaken by the government, civil society organisations or international organisations, and were designed or have the potential to reduce the imbalance in sex ratios.

Estimates from India suggest some 10 million gender-biased sex-selective abortions had taken place in the period 1981–2005, amounting to five percent of the female population aged below 15. Indeed, recent studies have noted that as a result of sex-selective abortion, about 0.5–0.6 million girls are missing each year. There is clearly an urgent need to arrest this trend; unfortunately, insufficient programme or research attention has been paid to identifying promising practices that may be effective in doing so.

This review is a first step towards filling this gap and its objectives are twofold. First, it highlights the situation in India with regard to the sex ratio at birth and the juvenile or child sex ratio, including geographic and other disparities. Second, it synthesises promising approaches through which efforts have been made to address the practice of gender-biased sex selection. The findings are expected to draw attention to gaps in evidence and outline areas of research that are needed to arrive at evidence-based recommendations for action, and provide evidence-based guidance to help both policy-makers and donors to determine feasible and effective interventions.


Jejeebhoy, S.J.; Basu, S.; Acharya, R.; Francis Zavier, A.J. Gender-biased sex selection in India: a review of the situation and interventions to counter the practice. Population Council, New Delhi, India (2015) ix + 74 pp.

Gender-biased sex selection in India: a review of the situation and interventions to counter the practice

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