Thursday, April 7, 2011

NRIs fare no better on sex ratio front

NEW DELHI: It isn't just at home that India in particular, and Asia generally, have a problem of a low sex ratio. The sex ratio at birth among Indians and other Asian communities in the US is much lower than among the white and the black communities. This is a trend that was also found among Indians in the UK. 

The US trend was revealed in a paper published recently in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis, which compared the sex ratios of blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, Asian Indians and Koreans, relative to the whites. This was done by reviewing all US live births from 1975 to 2002 using National Centre for Health Statistics birth certificates in 4-year intervals. However, separate figures for Indians and Koreans were available only from 1991. 

In 1999-2002, the sex ratio at birth among Indians was 938 girls to 1,000 boys compared to 952 for the whites and 969 for the blacks, which was the highest. 

In 2007, a study at Oxford University by Sylvie Dubuc had shown that for children born to India-born mothers, between 1990 and 2005, the sex ratio was between 926 and 962 girls for every 1,000 boys. In cases where there was a third child, the ratio was even more skewed, 884 girls for 1,000 boys. 

Dubuc, who studied birth rates of different ethnic groups in England and Wales, found that in the 1970s, 971 girls were born for every 1,000 boys among those of Indian origin. But between 2000 and 2005, there were just 877 girls for every 1,000 boys. Dubuc wrote that the most plausible explanation for this trend was sex-selective abortion. 

The US study clearly shows that Indians are not alone in this practice as several other Asian communities too have skewed sex ratio at birth suggesting prenatal gender selection by these populations. However, the Indian community recorded the least fall in sex ratio among the Asians and thus seemed the most virtuous in comparison. 

In the absence of extrinsic factors, the sex ratio at birth is widely considered to be consistent across human populations ranging from 935 to 971 girls per 1,000 boys. The sex ratio for all US births from 1975 to 2002 was 952. However, in China, India, Korea and some other countries it was found to be less than 926 and this has been interpreted as having arisen through prenatal gender selection. 

Between 1999 and 2002, the sex ratio at birth of the Indian community in the US was 938, but other Asian groups like the Chinese with 928, Filipinos with 931 and Koreans with 934 fared even worse. 

On the other hand, Indians have recorded the steepest decline in sex ratio for the first birth. It was 976 in 1991-94, which was higher than even the black and the white communities. It fell to 943 by 1999-2002. In contrast, sex ratio at birth for second and third children in the Indian community has actually improved over this period. 

This could mean that sex selection is now happening right from the first birth and the pressure to select for subsequent children has hence come down compared to the past.

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